It's Day 3 of the Training Camp Dose, and things are in full swing around the NFL. That means fantasy drafts are on the horizon, and the news is coming hard and heavy from across the league. In fact, there's been more news in the last three days than there has been in the previous two months. Here's what you need to know from a hectic Thursday.
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After numerous reports and rumblings that Marshawn Lynch was unhappy with his current contract, the proverbial hit the fan on Thursday, as Lynch is holding out of Seahawks training camp.
Lynch is currently playing in the third year of a four-year deal and is slated to make $5.5 million this season. At $31 million, the total value of his of his contract slots him as the fifth highest paid running back on an average-per-year basis, and his is the only of the top ten running back contracts to have more than 50 percent in guaranteed money.
This move doesn’t come as a huge shock, as Lynch skipped voluntary OTAs, though he did report to mandatory minicamp in June. Either way, he’s not in the best position for leverage being an aging player with potential breakout Christine Michael nipping at his heels.
Lynch’s holdout comes just one day after the Chiefs gave Jamaal Charles a contract extension after his short-lived holdout. However, Lynch’s is a very different situation. His contract is more than fair, while Charles was due a below market value $3.65 million in 2014.
It’s unlikely the Seahawks budge, and Lynch is doing himself an ultimate disservice letting Michael have the lion’s share of reps in camp. Needless to say, it’s tough to get behind Lynch as a fantasy option in 2014 given the recent events. Michael on the other hand is looking more and more like a player to own.
The league announced Thursday that Ray Rice will be suspended for the first two games of the regular season for his role in a domestic incident with his then fiancée in Atlantic City. There’s certainly plenty of debate regarding the severity (or lack thereof) with this punishment, but I’m going to focus on the fantasy ramifications. With Rice out, former Temple Owl Bernard Pierce will get feature back duties.
Pierce was anything but impressive last season, with just 2.9 yards per carry, but remember this is a different offense now in Baltimore under OC Gary Kubiak that will feature the run with zone-blocking concepts. This system is a much better fit for Pierce, who has a skillset that’s intriguingly similar to Arian Foster. That’s not to say Pierce will have a Foster-like breakout this season, but the smart money says he continues to be a strong factor in the Ravens’ offense even when Rice comes back.
Another interesting running back situation is playing out in Cleveland, where the Browns just activated Terrance West from the active/NFI list. Like the Ravens, Cleveland is running zone-blocking in Kyle Shanahan’s one-cut offense, which is a strong fit for what West can do on the football field. Of course, Ben Tate is also in Cleveland and is the early favorite to open Week 1 as the starter.
What we could ultimately end up seeing is more of a timeshare in Cleveland. With Tate currently the No. 26 running back in ADP and West coming off the board as RB39, the value is obvious here. This is a lot like what we saw last season between Joique Bell and Reggie Bush, where Bell offered the better fantasy value because he was simply going later in drafts. Likewise, West is shaping up to be a sneaky value who you can three or even four rounds after Tate.
Reports out of Buffalo say Sammy Watkins is dazzling in Bills camp. Time to send him screaming up our draft boards, right? Not so fast. The Bills were one of the most run-heavy offenses last season, with only Seattle and San Francisco running the ball more frequently. Add in E.J. Manual at quarterback, and it’s a good idea to pump the brakes on Watkins. With an ADP in the mid-seventh round, Watkins doesn’t represent good value, especially considering he’s coming off the board before the likes of Eric Decker.
Speaking of Decker, will he be among the league leaders in targets? Well, that’s what ESPN New York expects. Last season, Pierre Garcon led all receivers with 184 targets, while Decker managed 137. The Jets have a lot less mouths to feed than the Broncos did last season, so it’s certainly feasible for Decker to see more targets in 2014. That being said, this shouldn’t impact Decker’s fantasy stock. He’s currently the No. 31 wide receiver off the board in Yahoo! ADP, and that sounds about right.
Of course, there’s been a lot of debate as to who’s going to be throwing Decker the ball. The Jets signed Michael Vick in the off-season, but Geno Smith is the incumbent. While reports fluctuated between Vick’s signing and the opening of camp, recent word has suggested the job is Smith’s to lose. This certainly looks to be the cases, as Smith got the bulk of first-team reps at the first day of Jets camp.
Another quarterback situation of note is playing out in Minnesota. New Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer confirmed that Matt Cassel is the team’s No. 1 quarterback entering camp. This isn't a shocker, but opening camp with the ones doesn’t necessarily guarantee that Cassel will be under center in Week 1. Teddy Bridgewater will almost certainly press Cassel. Even if he doesn’t win the job in camp, expect to see Bridgewater as a starter at some point in 2014.
Here’s a shocker - Jonathan Stewart is hurt already. Stewart is one of those players who I think we’ll look back on and wonder “what if.” He has all the talent in the world, but situation and injury has prevented him from reaching his full potential. He’s dealing with a minor hamstring pull, and is expected to miss the first 1-2 weeks of camp. It’s been my experience that “hamstring” is never a word you want to hear for any player, especially this early in the year.
Another player with recent injury issues is Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski. Despite being medically cleared, Gronk did not participate in 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 work on Thursday. While some may be concerned by this news, remember that Gronk came along much slower last season. There’s obviously a lot of risk with Gronkowski, as he’s missed 14 games over the last two seasons. However, when he’s healthy Gronk is one of the most dominant players in the league at his respective position. His mid-third-round ADP is very intriguing.
For those in IDP circles, Oakland released veteran LB Kevin Burnett, which all but solidifies Sio Moore’s spot in the starting lineup. Moore and Nick Roach will likely serve as the subpackage linebackers with first-rounder Khalil Mack kicking down to defensive end. Moore has an ideal skillset from and IDP perspective, and he’s moving up my board. There’s definite sleeper appeal.
Devon Kennard opened Giants camp as the starting strong side linebacker. While there was some buzz around Kennard in the offseason, it’s not worth reading too much into this news. With Jon Beason sidelined, Jameel McClain is manning the middle. He’ll move back to the strong side when Beason is back, and Jacquain Williams is inked in on the weak side. Still, those in IDP dynasty leagues will want to take notice of Kennard.
Another rookie defender of note is Jason Verrett, who opened camp as a starter at right corner for the Chargers with Brandon Flowers running with the second-team. If this sticks, Verrett is a strong fantasy defensive back prospect who has a fantasy profile similar to Antoine Winfield.
Lastly, let’s check in on the Tennessee kicker situation where Maikon Bonani is the favorite to replace Rob Bironas. While this is interesting news for the Titans, it’s not likely to impact your fantasy roster. The Brazilian out of South Florida doesn’t have a particularly big leg, and does not project to be a quality fantasy option.