Bruce Arians' ability to manufacture and scheme production out of Arizona's 2013 offense despite abysmal offensive line talent -- No. 7 overall pick LG Jonathan Cooper was supposed to be the Cardinals' best one and he didn't play a single down -- cements, in my mind, Arians as an elite NFL offensive coach. And let's not forget the defenses Arizona faced, playing everyone else in the NFC West twice. The Cardinals' offensive line is going to be a lot better this year.
Back is Cooper. Signed is 27-year-old (in June) stud Jared Veldheer to man Carson Palmer's blind side. Back is quality starting center Lyle Sendlein. The right side still needs fixing, but couldn't be worse than last year, when RG Paul Fanaika finished as Pro Football Focus' No. 76 guard out of 81 qualifiers, and current free agent RT Eric Winston ranked 70th among 76 tackles.
And that's good news for the entirety of Arizona's offense, which will feature Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd almost exclusively in the passing game with Andre Roberts out of the picture. Although Arians continues to downplay the possibility of Andre Ellington as a true workhorse, he's clearly being counted on for an increased sophomore-year role. A slightly poor man's Giovani Bernard, Ellington led all 2013 rushers in yards per carry (5.53) among players with at least 100 attempts. Also dynamic in the passing game, Ellington would become a high-ceiling fantasy commodity on a workload similar to C.J. Spiller's in 2012 (207 carries, 40-plus receptions).
With its offensive line patched back together, Tony Gonzalez's 83 receptions removed from the equation, and Julio Jones and Roddy White both due back healthy, Atlanta's passing offense should be a hotspot for fantasy bounce-back years. White is 32 now, but racked up 43 catches for 502 yards and two touchdowns over Atlanta's final five games of last season, good for a beastly 138-1,607-7 extrapolation. Some of those pace stats obviously aren't sustainable, but White can still ball. I'm going to love him as a 2014 re-draft value pick, and believe he's worth targeting in Dynasty leagues, as well. One of the game's premier route runners, White's playing style should keep him effective deep into his 30s. Franchise quarterback Matt Ryan is signed through 2018.
I also love Ryan's chances of rebounding. Last year's No. 15 fantasy quarterback finish was Ryan's worst since his injury-plagued 2009 sophomore season, and caused mainly by the injuries to Julio and White, as well as disastrous line play. This may sound like lazy analysis, but the fact is Atlanta's front five couldn't be worse than last season. Combine OC Dirk Koetter's pass-first leanings with the Falcons' underwhelming run game and a healthy White and Jones, and Ryan should be a shoo-in to rediscover top-eight quarterback numbers.
As for Atlanta's backfield, I'm holding off on projections until May's draft. I think there's a good chance GM Thomas Dimitroff uses an early- to mid-round pick on a toolsy power back. Steven Jackson remains on the roster, though he turns 31 in July and leads all active NFL running backs in career carries -- by 365 over Frank Gore. There's not much juice left in that tank. The Falcons' backfield was dealt another offseason blow when Jason Snelling announced his retirement.
What's happening in Carolina saddens me. Second-year GM Dave Gettleman's financial flexibility is nonexistent due to old GM Marty Hurney's contract blunders and Greg Hardy's $13.116 million franchise tag. The Panthers' offensive line and wide receiver corps are in absolute shambles, and there's next to nothing Gettleman can do about it. He badly needs another home-run draft.
The Panthers have seven picks in May, though only two in the top 90. Gettleman showed in his first year that he can be a highly effective drafter, but he's really going to need to work magic this time. In an otherwise fast-improving NFC South, Carolina is a legitimate first-to-worst candidate. Cam Newton and the front seven can keep the Panthers in games, but beyond Cam their current offensive makeup lacks any semblance of playmaking ability. The O-Line is truly in tatters, and the defense was lucky to stay healthy last year.
None of that "analysis" may help you in your fantasy league, but I think it's worth filing away. 31-year-old DeAngelo Williams is the Panthers' lead running back. 32-year-old Jerricho Cotchery is their top wide receiver. Turnstile RT Byron Bell is penciled in on Newton's blind side.
The Bears' embarrassment of offensive riches could expand this season with sophomore wideout Marquess Wilson moving into a prominent role. Gone is longtime slot man Earl Bennett, clearing a path for Wilson to play in three-receiver sets. Wilson stands 6-foot-3, 194 and ran a 4.51 forty at the 2013 Combine, before flashing playmaking ability last preseason. He's 21 years old. Wilson's 2014 re-draft value is likely tied to Alshon Jeffery or Brandon Marshall missing time, but there's an arrow pointing skyward on his Dynasty stock. Marshall's contract expires after this season, and coach Marc Trestman runs one of the NFL's most receiver-friendly offenses.
Under then-rookie coach Trestman, a.k.a. "QB Whisperer," Jay Cutler stayed healthy enough to attempt 24-plus passes in 10 games last season. These are his numbers in those ten: 221-of-347 (63.7%) for 2,593 yards (7.47 YPA) with a 19:11 TD-to-INT ratio. Over 16 games, those numbers work out to career bests in completion rate and touchdown passes (30.4). Cutler's passing yards (4,148) would've been the second most of his career. Cutler's non-believers will hold against him his injury-prone label and reputed lack of "clutch" factor, while open-minded fantasy-value seekers will note Cutler is likely to improve on his 2013 pace stats in his second year under Trestman. Chicago is absurdly loaded on offense, with Forte in the backfield, Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall out wide, Martellus Bennett at tight end, and Wilson offering big upside on expanded playing time. If you're not already seriously considering value-plucking Cutler with a 2014 re-draft pick, perhaps you've been watching too much late-season NBA.
With Wilson and Jeffery outside, Marshall will be able to create more mismatches at slot receiver, where opponents typically play small corners and backup safeties. A draft-day scenario to monitor is Chicago drafting a running back. 2013 UDFA Michael Ford is the lone worthwhile tailback prospect on the current depth chart behind Forte. Trestman prefers flexible, multi-dimensional backs.
Want to get excited about Dez Bryant? I mean really, really excited. Read this column by Pat Thorman of Pro Football Focus.
New Cowboys "passing-game coordinator" (read: playcaller) Scott Linehan spent 2009-2013 as Jim Schwartz's offensive coordinator in Detroit. On Linehan's watch, the Lions ranked sixth, third, first, first, and fifth in the NFL in pass attempts. The Cowboys ranked 13th, ninth, 12th, third, and 14th over that same stretch. Jason Garrett does like to pass. He just doesn't like to pass as much as Linehan. Not many people do.
As much of the rest of the league tones down their passing games in favor of increased balance, the Cowboys are dialing up the volume. Give Linehan a pass for Detroit's lack of high-end No. 2 receiver production; injuries forced him to play Kris Durham opposite Calvin Johnson the past two seasons. Titus Young, Ryan Broyles, and even Nate Burleson all had productive runs when healthy. I like Terrance Williams as a breakout candidate and potential every-week WR3.
And don't expect DeMarco Murray to get lost, either. Linehan's usage of Reggie Bush -- a player I compared Murray to coming out of college -- was creative and very successful in Detroit last year. Joique Bell caught 50-plus passes in consecutive seasons under Linehan after almost falling out of the league. In 2006, Steven Jackson hauled in a career-high 90 receptions with Linehan calling St. Louis' plays. Reduced carries and increased catches could actually bode well for Murray's chances of staying healthy. He'll be in space rather than grinding between the tackles. I'm not sure the Linehan hire improves Dallas' slim Super Bowl chances, but I like it for fantasy value.
Speaking of Joique Bell and Reggie Bush, I think there's going to be a new lead running back in Detroit this year. And it'll be the guy with a new contract. Targeting a more under-center rushing attack and moving away from outgoing OC Scott Linehan's spread, the Lions locked up Bell for three years and $9.3 million, with $4.3 million guaranteed. The Lions could've retained Bell on a one-year, $2.187 million restricted tender. Instead, they gave him a raise and will increase his workload. As ex-Saints quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi is now Detroit's offensive coordinator, I expect to see Bush in a Sprolesian role with Bell as the Lions' new carries leader.
I believe the Lions are very much in play for early-round pass catchers -- particularly "movement" tight ends -- so I plan to wait until after the draft to make substantive predictions regarding Detroit's pass-game distribution. I do believe it's worth exploring just how big an upgrade Golden Tate is on incumbent No. 2 receiver Kris Durham. And that upgrade bodes extremely well for Matthew Stafford.
One of the most inefficient receivers in the game, Durham dropped 10-of-82 targets last season per Pro Football Focus' game charts. His 46.3% "catch rate" ranked 104th among 111 qualifying wide receivers. This was despite playing opposite Calvin Johnson, who makes life easy on complementary players by commanding triple teams and bracket coverage. To be as frank as possible, Durham was downright terrible.
Conversely, Tate has dropped just five of his 149 catchable targets over the last three seasons, the lowest "drop rate" of any wide receiver in the pros. Tate's 50 "missed tackles" forced the past three years are nine more than any wideout in the game, per PFF’s Pete Damilatis. Tate lacks prototypical size (5-foot-10 1/4, 199) and was always a dicey WR3 play in Seattle's run-first offense, but he has breakout potential in Detroit and is going to be a big boon to his quarterback's cause.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson, and Randall Cobb all project as top 2014 fantasy re-draft picks with minimal reasons for concern.
There are moving parts behind Green Bay's headline skill-position players, however. Jarrett Boykin will inherit the James Jones role, playing X and Z receiver opposite Nelson with Cobb in the slot. Boykin isn't quite an explosive playmaker, but can handle steady volume, runs crisp routes, and plays with a lot of physicality at 6-foot-2, 218. Still only 24, the arrow is pointing up on Boykin. He could make a major statistical surge if Nelson or Cobb miss time.
Green Bay is an intriguing possible landing spot for an early-round tight end. The Packers envision in-line plodder Andrew Quarless as a No. 2 type, and ex-basketball player Brandon Bostick remains a work in progress. GM Ted Thompson will stay true to his board on draft day -- he always does -- but tight ends could definitely intrigue him as the Packers look to replace Jermichael Finley.
I don't think the Packers have thrown in the towel on 2013 fourth-round pick Johnathan Franklin by any means. But the fact that they re-signed James Starks (two years, $3.166 million) suggests Thompson believes Franklin isn't ready, or at least that Starks remains a significantly superior supporting option. Based on Thompson's history of contract dealings, I don't think he would've retained Starks at even the league minimum were the Packers sold on Franklin as a No. 2 back. Franklin struggled for playing time as a rookie, and as of late March was still recovering from last November's concussion and neck injuries. Physical reliability is a critical running back attribute.
Norv Turner brings to Minnesota the template of a vertical passing attack complemented by a foundation power run game. The pieces are obviously in place for the latter with Adrian Peterson parked behind a Vikings offensive line that returns all five starters and finished in the top ten of Football Outsiders' 2013 run-block ratings. Peterson will be leaned on particularly heavily due to Minnesota's quarterback situation, which will either be engineered by Matt Cassel or a rookie.
When pursuing value in 2014 re-drafts, however, Kyle Rudolph should be the first Vikings name that pops into people's minds. Including Jordan Cameron and Antonio Gates, Norv's offenses have produced a top-seven fantasy tight end in six of the last seven years. Norv coaxed a top-15 season out of far-inferior talent Eric Johnson of San Francisco in 2006, and two top-nine finishes from Randy McMichael in Miami. The tight end is a huge part of Turner's scheme. Still only 24, Rudolph is someone to target in Dynasty leagues and as a potential re-draft breakout candidate.
Currently, Cordarrelle Patterson is a hotter name after finishing his rookie year on a wicked tear, scoring six touchdowns in the final five games. I've loved Patterson's physical tools since studying his college tape, but can envision scenarios where his re-draft stock grows too rich for my taste. Patterson is still in the process of learning how to run intermediate and deep routes confidently, and I wonder if the Vikings will be willing to pull him off kick returns considering the home-run dimension he offers on special teams. Throw in what's likely to be a run-dominated offense with shaky quarterback play, and there are obstacles in Patterson's breakout path. I don't think Norv will suddenly turn him into Josh Gordon. I can envision another year of folks complaining that Patterson is being "underutilized" in his team's passing game.
New Orleans Saints
Many -- if not most -- of the NFL's best teams and offensive minds are trending toward more rushing volume and less passing, or are already there. I expect that trend to continue throughout the league in 2014. Among them will be Sean Payton, whose stretch-run playcalling combined with New Orleans' trade of Darren Sproles indicates a shift in the team's thinking. Payton, in fact, has been loudly discussing a more "balanced" offense since returning from his BountyGate suspension. He finally found a back capable of sustaining drives last season in impressive UDFA Khiry Robinson, who played a major role in the Saints' final three games. As legend has it, Payton mentor Bill Parcells compared Robinson to Curtis Martin in a private conversation between the two. Mark Ingram's late-season improvement also can't be ignored. Ingram gained 386 yards on his final 78 carries (4.95 YPC), thriving as the Saints made an increased run-game commitment.
The Saints won the Super Bowl in 2009 when they finished seventh in the NFL in rushing attempts and had a foundation run game headed by Mike Bell, Pierre Thomas, and Reggie Bush. Thomas is still around, while Robinson and Ingram are both superior runners to Bell. I'm not saying Drew Brees is going to stop slinging it around the yard, but I do think Payton would like Brees to do that a little bit less, and for New Orleans to funnel more offense through the run while relying on Rob Ryan's much improved defense. The Saints have designs on becoming a complete team in 2014. This won’t be an air show any longer.
New York Giants
The G-Men jumpstarted the post-Kevin Gilbride era by aggressively addressing their backfield and offensive line, while in Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Myers, Louis Murphy, and Andre Brown, letting 40% of their 2013 receptions walk. The Giants landed all-purpose back Rashad Jennings (four years, $10 million), re-upped power complement Peyton Hillis (two years, $1.8 million), and kept lane-paving lead blocker Henry Hynoski (one year, $1 million). Up front, GM Jerry Reese bought 6-foot-6, 340-pound left guard mauler Geoff Schwartz (four years, $16.8 million) and old Broncos center J.D. Walton (two years, $5 million). RG Chris Snee was lured back on a $5 million pay cut to face competition from ex-Dolphins 335-pound underachiever John Jerry (one year, $770,000). 2013 first-round right tackle Justin Pugh returns from a promising rookie campaign. The Giants will cross their fingers that left tackle Will Beatty rediscovers 2012 form after a brutal '13 season.
Their lone wide receiver pickup was old pal Mario Manningham (one year, $765,000), who has bad knees and looked washed up in San Francisco last season.
The offseason strategy leads me to believe the G-Men intend to resume playing old-fashioned Coughlinball in 2014. Gilbride had seemingly become obsessed with the passing game in recent seasons. When the Giants couldn't pass protect last year due to myriad O-Line injuries, their team fell apart. Eli Manning threw a league-high 27 interceptions and his total sacks taken (39) more than doubled. New York turned the ball over relentlessly. They couldn't sustain offensive drives, making DC Perry Fewell's defense look worse than it really was. It was a nightmare season.
We'll have to wait to see what Reese has up his sleeve in May's draft, but as it stands Jennings looks like a good bet for 200-plus carries and around 40 catches. He's the quintessential Tom Coughlin back, with pass-blocking chops and quality vision as a runner. Jennings has lost one fumble across 387 career carries. Although he's flown under the radar behind Toby Gerhart and Ben Tate among free agent running backs, Jennings landed in a very nice spot.
If the Eagles use a first-round pick on someone like Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, this could all easily prove a moot point. But let's examine how Philadelphia might replace DeSean Jackson's role this season, in the event GM Howie Roseman dedicates his early-round picks to defense. D-Jax ranked in the top 25 in the NFL in targets last year, setting or tying career highs in catches (82), yards (1,332), and receiving scores (9). And I don't anticipate some huge second-year drop off in Chip Kelly's team offensive efficiency. There’s a lot of production to replace.
The obvious candidate is Jeremy Maclin, although I'm skeptical for a few reasons. Maclin's game isn't like Jackson's. In addition to being a deep threat, Jackson is a shifty, elusive in-space movement receiver, while Maclin is more straight-linish and better suited on the perimeter. Kelly used Jackson in a variety of ways. Coming off a torn ACL, I'm not sure he'll do the same with Maclin. I do like Maclin as fantasy WR3 with WR2 upside, but I doubt he'll come close to duplicating Jackson's stats.
LeSean McCoy handled career mosts in carries (314) and all-purpose touches (366) last season, and I tend to doubt Kelly puts much more on his plate. The Eagles traded for Darren Sproles, who could definitely handle some of Jackson's vacated touches around the line of scrimmage. Fresh off signing a five-year, $25 million deal, Riley Cooper's outlook doesn't change much. He's even less of a Jackson-like wideout than Maclin, and played 89 percent of Philly's offensive snaps in 2013. Cooper could conceivably improve on the field in his second year as a starter. I just don't see him "replacing" DeSean Jackson.
Zach Ertz is really interesting. Eagles beat writers and players were predicting a sophomore leap for last year's 35th overall pick even before Jackson's release. "There are three players that I told that they would be great players in this league," Michael Vick stated last season. "I always told Alge Crumpler that he was going to be great, I always told Shady McCoy that he was going to be a great player in this league, and I always told Roddy White. And now I'm saying Zach Ertz." Ertz's pass-game role expanded down the stretch, posting a 25-290-5 receiving line across Philly's final nine games. And he only played 41% of the snaps. Ertz is a "movement" tight end who can run pass patterns at all three levels of the field. Here's a link to my college tape study on Ertz as he came out of Stanford last winter.
I think the Eagles will wind up compensating for Jackson's production in a committee manner. I like Maclin as a 2014 re-draft pick assuming his price tag doesn't get too high. I could see Sproles having an outside chance at weekly flex-play reliability in PPR leagues. But at this moment, I see Ertz as the biggest box-score beneficiary of D-Jax's departure.
San Francisco 49ers
49ers GM Trent Baalke will enter May's draft with 11 draft picks, including a borderline-unfair six in the top 100. San Francisco is a lock to add young talent, but I think their primary means of offensive improvement will come from within.
26-year-old quarterback Colin Kaepernick enters his second full season as a starter, while top wideout Michael Crabtree returns at full strength after last year's Achilles' tendon tear. Anquan Boldin is back on a two-year, $12 million deal. Vernon Davis made noticeable strides as a route runner in 2013, and is signed for two more years. Sophomore wideout Quinton Patton flashed promise in limited doses, but figures to face competition at No. 3 receiver from a rookie.
San Francisco's backfield is a little more interesting. Frank Gore isn't going away, but he turns 31 in May and is entering the last year of his contract. Gore had one 100-yard rushing performance over the 49ers' final 13 games, and averaged 3.65 YPC across the last ten. Gore remains the NFL's premier pass-blocking tailback and a vital cog in Jim Harbaugh's offense, but the Niners have to be considering significantly downsizing his workload. With Marcus Lattimore's knees expected to be healthy and Kendall Hunter offering a Ray Rice-like skill set, San Francisco has horses to do just that. This backfield has three-headed-monster potential for 2014.
The Seahawks play straightforward offense. They're going to run the ball relentlessly, and their wide receivers' stats won't overwhelm. Losing Golden Tate can be offset by Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse's improvement, while Percy Harvin's return to health will make Russell Wilson's passing game more dynamic over the middle. The ceiling on Harvin's volume may be capped by Seattle's run-heavy commitment -- Seattle has finished 32nd and 31st in pass attempts through two seasons with Wilson as its starter -- but Percy will offer plenty of WR2/3 fantasy appeal. And keep an eye on second-year TE Luke Willson, a quietly integral part of this passing offense. At 6-foot-5 3/8, 251, Willson is a freak athletically. His 4.51 forty-yard dash, 38-inch vertical, 10-foot-2 broad jump, and 4.29 short shuttle would've ranked second, second, third, and third among tight ends at this year's Combine.
Seattle's running game is a much more reliable source of fantasy scoring, though, and I think there are some reasons for concern with Marshawn Lynch. Including playoffs, Lynch will enter the 2014 season at age 28 with 1,002 carries over his last three years, an average of 334 per season. Re-drafters will have to closely monitor the position battle between third-down back Robert Turbin and 2013 second-round pick Christine Michael. Lynch has absorbed an unruly amount of punishment due to his running style. Pro Football Focus has placed Lynch in the top four of its yards-after-contact metric in each of the past three seasons. Turbin is no slouch, but Michael displayed truly special running ability at Texas A&M and during his first NFL preseason. Coach Pete Carroll propped him up as a "breakout" candidate in February.
“He’s really talented and he’s a really exciting guy in our program," Carroll said of Michael. "Probably has the most breakout potential out of anybody because you haven’t seen much of him yet. We’ve seen him, we know that he can do really special stuff. We all know in our program that he’s going to be very explosive and a really exciting guy. He showed that in his chances.”
St. Louis Rams
The Rams structured their 2013 offseason around installing an Oklahomian spread offense where Sam Bradford could feel "comfortable," almost as if he were back in college. Bradford's final stats look good on paper pre-ACL tear, but closer inspection reveals little difference in Bradford's on-field performance, with Bradford racking up numbers in comeback mode and netting nine of his 14 touchdowns against Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Houston. Those teams all draft in the top six in May. Just from watching the 2013 Rams, I think you could make a strong argument that the offense ran smoother and with more purpose with Kellen Clemens at the controls. They had a defined identity. St. Louis finished 4-5 with Clemens after Bradford's 3-4 start.
Small-sample-sized won-loss records are unreliable indicators of individual on-field performance -- and particularly future fantasy production -- but they may mean something to St. Louis' decision makers. More importantly during Clemens' time under center, the Rams discovered a foundation back in Zac Stacy. They have a lot of talent on defense. And, historically, this is the way Jeff Fisher prefers to play. For many years in Houston and Tennessee, part of the definition of "Fisher Ball" was a decidedly run-first attack.
And we can continue to collectively wonder whether Sam Bradford is indeed a "franchise quarterback," and whether him, or the people around him are more to blame for Bradford's slow NFL development. But the fantasy stock of Stacy would be solidified by implementation of Fisher Ball. It was Matt Waldman of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio who first compared Stacy's running style coming out of Vanderbilt to Travis Henry. Across 14 games with the Titans in 2006, Henry rushed 270 times and averaged a career-best 4.5 YPC. Fisher was Henry's head coach.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I'm not worried about Doug Martin bouncing back from last year's shoulder injury. I'm not too worried about "other backs" Bobby Rainey and Mike James. I'm not overly concerned with Tampa Bay's rebuilt offensive line, either. I am a bit cautious about the history of backfield usage and fantasy performance under Tampa Bay's new coaching staff. The No. 3 overall running back scorer in his first year under Marc Trestman, Matt Forte only finished inside the top-ten fantasy backs once in five previous seasons under Lovie Smith. Rookie OC Jeff Tedford spent a decade as the head coach at Cal. He had three excellent receiving backs in Jahvid Best, Shane Vereen, and Justin Forsett, yet none of those three ever exceeded 27 receptions in a college season. I do believe Martin has a chance to flirt with 300 carries. I consider Martin's pass-catching skills a strength, however. And I'm not sure Lovie and Tedford are the right guys to maximize it.
Due to Mike Williams' off-field woes, I think the Bucs are a sleeper to draft a receiver at No. 7 overall. I don't think they'd hesitate if Sammy Watkins slipped there. And although Mike Evans' skill set is similar to Vincent Jackson's, V-Jax has experience at both X and Z from his San Diego days opposite Malcom Floyd. Jackson worked in the slot frequently last year. There is next to no receiver depth in Tampa, and Williams doesn't exactly profile as one of "Lovie's guys." From a roster standpoint, the Bucs are in a place where they don't necessarily have to draft for specific needs. They can stay true to their board.
Based on what I know about Jeff Tedford and Lovie Smith, I expect the Buccaneers to be a team whose foundation is defense, that runs the football with heavy volume and asks its quarterback to manage games. Josh McCown's role will be caretaker, avoiding turnovers and keeping the chains moving on third down. Passing-game fireworks will be few and far between.
I've been mildly critical of Dan Snyder's latest head-coaching hire because I'm not sure Jay Gruden's body of work in Cincinnati warranted it. I do believe Gruden deserves credit for a vice-grip handle on Andy Dalton's strengths and weaknesses, getting the ball out of Dalton's hands quickly and to Cincinnati's deep cast of playmakers. Coaxing 60 touchdowns across two seasons out of such a limited passer deserves kudos. I was more concerned with Gruden's play-time distribution amongst Dalton's supporting cast, and suspect ability to evaluate in-house talent. Gruden regularly played BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Mohamed Sanu at Giovani Bernard and Marvin Jones' expense. He couldn't carve out a consistent role for Andrew Hawkins, or even 2013 first-round pick Tyler Eifert. He leaned on Jermaine Gresham too much. Digging deeper, pass-protection extraordinaire Anthony Collins couldn't crack Cincinnati's first-team lineup until injuries forced him in.
But Gruden the head coach will serve in a different capacity than Gruden the offensive coordinator, so I'm not saying his arrival in Washington is necessarily bad news for all Redskins skill players. I expect Pierre Garcon to continue to be a target monster in the A.J. Green role. New OC Sean McVay was Jordan Reed's position coach last year, and figures to insist on featuring Reed. Gruden's leadership could be a necessary step for Robert Griffin III's development, as RG3 morphs from a run-heavy quarterback into a pocket passer who can run when needed. And Griffin's opportunity will rise in Gruden's higher-volume passing attack. Under Mike Shanahan, RG3 ranked 26th and 18th in the NFL in pass attempts. Under Gruden, Dalton came in 15th and eighth.
The Redskins' skill guy I am worried about is Alfred Morris. Morris' passing-game shortcomings could make him a tough fit for Gruden's pass-centric offense, while Gruden's past committee-backfield leanings are another potential hint at decreased usage. Gruden has talked up second-year scatback Chris Thompson. Roy Helu returns as far-and-away Washington's top pass protector and receiver. Morris is a true foundation runner and was a beyond-fantastic fit for the old Shanahan zone-run offense, but there will be tweaks to the scheme and he's not necessarily a Gruden-style back. Morris has fantasy disappointment potential for 2014.
We can delve deeper into DeSean Jackson's "fit" in Washington when/if the Redskins indeed land him. They appear to be competing with the Raiders, Bills, and two unidentified teams. I think Jackson's catch total could be nearly halved going from Chip Kelly to Gruden's offense, but he would add obvious big-play ability to the perimeter, and could have a major tactical impact, improving the outlooks of Garcon and Reed.