Dynasty Roster Check: AFC
As free agency is fast approaching, this is the time of year the best dynasty owners are eying the NFL rosters in hopes of accurately predicting which reserves will step into the limelight, which players changing teams will succeed, which will fail, and lastly, where the difference-making rookies will land. The NFL is a delicate ecosystem this time of year … and it is a great time to be a fan of the NFL.
Below we try to anticipate the comings and goings for each NFL team:
New England Patriots
The Patriots are set at the quarterback position with Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett. The other three positions are in a state of flux. At the running back position, Shane Vereen is expected to remain the pass-catching threat out of the backfield while Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount duke it out to carry the ball on first and second downs. Blount is an impending free agent, but is expected back in New England. Brandon Bolden remains in the mix. All four tailbacks are talented and this continues to project as a mess for fantasy owners. This is definitely not a situation to invest heavily in for dynasty. After bringing in three rookie receivers (Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, and Kenbrell Thompkins) last year, and signing Danny Amendola as a free agent, after-thought Julian Edelman was the most reliable and productive of the bunch. Edelman is a free agent this season and could take the money and run out of New England. Of this group, Dobson flashed potential as a rookie, and is the best bet to take a step forward in year two. In addition, it would be just like the Patriots to sign a high-reward pass catcher like Kenny Britt or Miles Austin. As a whole, the New England receivers need a boost and it will likely come from either Dobson and/or a free agent. At the tight end position, the team will anxiously await the return of Rob Gronkowski from the devastating knee injury. It is doubtful the big tight end will be ready for training camp … or even week one. Expect New England to either draft a “move” tight end in the first two days of the NFL Draft or sign a free agent to fill the void, or even both. Tom Brady will need improved play from his pass catchers for the Patriots to go far in 2014. The running game could be the focal point many games.
The Bills invested a high pick in EJ Manuel last year and will rely on the youngster in 2014. The team is hopeful that the former Florida State star will take a big step in his development for year two. Kevin Kolb and Thaddeus Lewis will provide depth at the position. Lewis has talent and could become a low-level starter in the NFL if given the opportunity. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller return to give Buffalo one of the best running back tandems in all of football. The issue for dynasty owners is that Jackson is well into his thirties while Spiller will be 27 years old before the season, with only one good fantasy campaign. Spiller has not topped 250 touches or eight scores in a professional season, yet his dynasty “value” is as if he is a solid every-year performer. The wide receiver group is expected to be a strength this season, as long as the quarterback play improves. Veteran Stevie Johnson will anchor the corps with second-year pros Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin on the field often. This is a solid group, and speedster T.J. Graham will vie for playing time. He and Goodwin may be the fastest pair of receivers in the league. World class speed on display. At the tight end position, free agent Scott Chandler is expected to be retained while injury-prone Tony Moeaki and youngster Chris Gragg look to make a difference in the passing game. Gragg exploded onto the scene a year ago with a very strong NFL Combine. As a whole, this is a young offense, led by a veteran running back duo. It is now or never for Manuel and company.
The Dolphins have been all over the news this offseason, and the organization is rarely painted in a positive light. Ryan Tannehill needs to play much better if the Dolphins are hoping for a playoff berth. Much of the blame last year was placed on the offensive line – and it was offensive – but, Tannehill lacked field and pocket awareness, taking way too many preventable sacks. Matt Moore should return to be his backup. Lamar Miller fell flat after a promising training camp in 2013. At this point, even with his potential, it is best for dynasty owners not to overpay for Miller. Daniel Thomas returns and is a favorite of the coaching staff. This, alone, is enough to squash most of Miller's value. Mike Gillislee will have an offseason to improve and take advantage of the less than stellar play ahead of him on the depth chart. This is one situation where a rookie tailback could seize control of the job and not look back. Miami overpaid for Mike Wallace a year ago and seems content with he and Brian Hartline as the Dolphins' starting receivers. Neither Brandon Gibson nor Armon Binns were able to make an impact. Rishard Matthews made a few waves but failed to put it all together. This is another situation where the unpredictable Dolphins could sign or draft a starting receiver, pushing Hartline to the slot. Charles Clay emerged to be a valuable weapon for Tannehill after the knee injury to Dustin Keller in 2013. Keller is a free agent and will likely not be back in Miami. Dion Sims, a rookie a year ago, is a player to watch. In total, this offense has few weapons and will struggle once again to move the ball … unless the young passer picks up his game.
New York Jets
What a mess of an offense the J-E-T-S have built. Geno Smith struggled as a rookie, yet will be counted on as a week-one starter. He should play better in year two. Most quarterbacks take a big step with a full offseason to work on weaknesses. Mark Sanchez will be sent packing, causing Rex Ryan to alter his tattoo (hopefully). At the tailback position, Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell will split touches. With the Mike Goodson saga, it would not be surprising to see New York bring in a big play back, either via free agency or through the NFL Draft. This is an offense needing play-makers at the skill positions. It is sad when Jeremy Kerley, an unaccomplished possession receiver, is the player with the highest expectations at the receiver position. Santonio Holmes is expected to be sent packing very soon. He is owed many more millions by the Jets than he is worth on the market. In fact, the team will save roughly eight million dollars in salary cap by cutting ties with the former Super Bowl hero. Stephen Hill has failed to live up to the hype and could quickly be buried on the depth chart by newcomers to the team. This is one position most pundits expect the team to address, possibly by signing a free agent like Hakeem Nicks or James Jones AND selecting a receiver on the first two days of the NFL Draft. How can New York hope for the young passer to progress unless the organization upgrades his weapons? The tight end position is weak as well with Jeff Cumberland hitting free agency. A player to monitor is Zach Sudfeld, a second-year tight end who flashed with New England in the 2013 training camp.
Joe Flacco is entrenched as the starter with Tyrod Taylor backing him up. Flacco hit the lottery with his strong play leading to the Super Bowl victory, then cashing in on the contract. After a disappointing season, Ray Rice has been in the news this offseason. This is never a good thing. Bernard Pierce is a solid speculative buy for dynasty owners given a likely suspension for Rice. Buried deep on the depth chart is Cierre Wood, who played decently in Houston as an undrafted rookie last season. It would not be a surprise if the Ravens drafted a ball carrier in the middle rounds or took a chance on a lesser free agent like Ahmad Bradshaw. Baltimore needs a strong running game to take the pressure off Flacco, and this point was obvious in 2013. The wide receiving corps missed Anquan Boldin, and his sure hands last season. Torrey Smith is not a “WR1” and flourishes with another receiver to keep defenses honest. Marlon Brown is best suited to be the third receiver. Expect the position to be addressed in a big way. General Manager Ozzie Newsome is one of the best and will make a splash to help his quarterback. Jacoby Jones will be a free agent and will have a market due to his special teams skills. Starting tight end Dennis Pitta will be back with the Ravens, with a fat new contract. The offense perked up when Pitta returned from the hip injury. Flacco will need a strong running game and better weapons in order to lead his team deep into the playoffs once again.
Ben Roethlisberger put up gaudy statistics over the last half of the season as he grew comfortable in Todd Haley's offense. Bruce Gradkowski will serve as his reserve. Roethlisberger is a viable QB1 fantasy option and could surprise many with a Top 5 finish in 2014. Le'Veon Bell will look to build on a solid rookie campaign. He is the workhorse for the Steelers and should approach 300 touches, if healthy. Jonathan Dwyer will be his backup. A speedy back would be a solid choice in the NFL Draft. The offense needs more speed and a threat out of the backfield would provide a great complement to Bell. At the wide receiver position, many wondered if the team would miss Mike Wallace. While there is debate on the topic, Roethlisberger was still able to make big plays. Yes, Wallace's speed would have helped, but Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders played well. Sanders is a free agent so Markus Wheaton should get an extra long window of opportunity to shine. If Pittsburgh looks to upgrade the position, it will likely come through the draft given the poor salary cap situation. Also, there is a chance veterans Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress will be brought back as insurance. Heath Miller will anchor the tight end position once again. Keep an eye on the Steelers offensive line. Over the past couple of seasons, Miller has been asked to stay in and block often instead of running pass patterns. If the line is improved, then it could translate into a greater fantasy production for Miller. The Pittsburgh offense is one in which dynasty owners should invest. Most of the players are undervalued while coming off solid seasons. Like Dobson above, Wheaton has a chance to explode onto the scene after a quiet rookie year.
Andy Dalton had a great season in 2013, his best as a professional. There is even talk of the Bengals giving him a new contract this offseason. Keep an eye on the offensive scheme with offensive coordinator Jay Gruden taking the head coaching job in Washington. We will soon discover how much Gruden's coaching was propping up Dalton. A player expected to quickly rise in value is Giovani Bernard. He showed tremendous quickness as a rookie and should have a larger role in year two. It is not as though BenJarvus Green-Ellis is good enough to hog all of the touches. Bernard could be a future star, or a little-used scat back, depending on how he is utilized. Cincinnati is loaded at the wide receiver position where A.J. Green is a superstar. Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones Jr will battle for game time. Both are starting quality, but Jones has the higher ceiling. Andrew Hawkins returns to play the slot. Youngster Cobi Hamilton is a player to watch in deep leagues. At tight end, this is the year many are expecting Tyler Eifert to take hold of the reins. However, Jermaine Gresham is still a Bengal and will garner some targets. There is hope the team uses more two-tight end sets this season given Gresham's strong blocking ability allowing Eifert to be more involved in the passing game. The Cincinnati offense could regress after outperforming expectations in 2013. Much depends on Dalton's progress.
The Browns are a team in disarray and turmoil, now on the third head coach in less than two years. Cleveland is expected to draft a quarterback in May's NFL Draft. Keep an eye on incumbent Brian Hoyer. He was effective pre-injury last season and could provide a solid stopgap for the Browns. Both Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell could be gone, depending on the draft. Each should be a backup somewhere in 2014. After trading Trent Richardson to Indianapolis, Dion Lewis is the back to watch. He is a shifty runner and solid receiver. Many may remember Lewis from his time in Philadelphia as LeSean McCoy's backup. None of the other backs are worth rostering unless in the deepest of leagues. All proved to be fodder, not standing out when given the chance in 2013. A free agent signing would not be a surprise. Neither would be a high draft pick. Many have rumored Ben Tate to Cleveland for months. However, the team will have plenty of choices given the depressed running back market. Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Rashad Mendenhall all could be had at a discount, and combine with Lewis to be an effective tandem. The Browns have loads of cap space available to sign a back … or even two. There is much to say about Josh Gordon. He is a STAR, who is still very young. Improved quarterback play will only help his star rise. There is little else at the position. Neither Davone Bess nor Greg Little impressed the last regime and are not worth rostering in most dynasty leagues. This is a position Cleveland will address through the draft, possibly with a high pick. The loss of Norv Turner and Rob Chudzinski was not welcome news to the dynasty owners of Jordan Cameron. Both coaches have proven success at developing and utilizing the tight end position. The jury is still out for Cameron's role in the new offense.
Andrew Luck is locked and loaded as the long-term starter for the Colts. He is a young stud quarterback, tops on many dynasty rankings. The running game let the Indianapolis offense down last fall. Trent Richardson and Vick Ballard will battle for carries. We expect Richardson to play much better after disappointing as a Colt. Donald Brown is a free agent but may come back if cheap enough. With two bruising backs, the team brass will look to add a scat back to add speed to the offense. Ahmad Bradshaw only signed a one-year contract and will be a free agent. Reggie Wayne is expected back healthy by training camp. TY Hilton broke out in 2013 and will look to take another step forward. Having Wayne back in the lineup will only help. Indianapolis desperately needs a talented player to complement Wayne and Hilton. It would not be a surprise if a middle round pick was used on the position, especially with the deep receiver class in this draft. Wayne cannot have many more seasons left. Da'Rick Rogers and LaVon Brazill will compete for playing time. Each has struggled off the field and will need to show maturity in order to get on the field. Darrius Heyward-Bey will not be brought back, after showing nothing but inconsistency. Talented duo, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, will be back to give Luck solid weapons in the passing game. Allen should be healed in time for training camp. This is a very good offense led by the young passer, but if play-makers are added at running back and receiver, this could be an elite offense. While we think the draft is the best way to acquire these players, it would not be a huge surprise if the big name-hungry brass signed a Darren McFadden or Hakeem Nicks.
Matt Schaub is not expected to be back in Houston given Gary Kubiak's departure and a large contract number owed for 2014. If so, it will be T.J. Yates giving way to a rookie (Bridgewater, Bortles, or Manziel) leading Bill O’Brien s offense. Arian Foster will be healthy for the full offseason. He is an upside rebound candidate. With Ben Tate leaving in free agency, Dennis Johnson and Jonathan Grimes will play a reserve role behind Foster. Veteran Andre Johnson is still going strong and putting up big numbers. Do not be surprised if his statistics take a step back with a change in offense and quarterback. Schaub threw to the superstar receiver early and often. Youngster DeAndre Hopkins flashed potential early in his rookie season before disappointing down the stretch. Hopkins is still very talented and a full offseason to hone his skill set can only help the cause. The reserve receivers, Keshawn Martin, Lestar Jean, and DeVier Posey, have yet to step up so O'Brien is expected to bring in competition for the WR3-WR5 spots. At tight end, oft-injured Owen Daniels returns. With Garrett Graham expected to leave via free agency, youngster Ryan Griffin could see ample playing time as Daniels misses games most every season. The Texans will have a chance for the playoffs if the quarterback play improves.
The Jaguars offense will look much different this year without Blaine Gabbert under season. A rookie or veteran will offer stability and upside for the fantasy players. Chad Henne is a free agent and the raw Matt Scott could emerge as the QB2 if he can start developing. The running game will have a big change, as well, with Maurice Jones-Drew leaving in free agency. In his stead, Jordan Todman and Justin Forsett should battle a new Jaguar for the opportunity to carry the ball. Coach Gus Bradley came from Seattle and could copy the Seahawks practice of selecting a tailback in the middle rounds in each draft. Denard Robinson was talked up by the coaching staff, but is not worth rostering unless he progresses at a strong rate. Justin Blackmon has been suspended indefinitely. Blackmon is one of the more talented receivers in the league when playing. His game against the Broncos in 2013 was a huge performance. We are hoping he can get his stuff together before running out of chances from the commissioner. Cecil Shorts and Ace Sanders will play often. Shorts has failed to live up to fantasy expectations but could flourish with a new quarterback under center. With this weak group – save Blackmon – talent and depth will be added. Mike Brown is a player to watch. He has made plays in limited duty. Marcedes Lewis returns to offer veteran leadership at the position. Jacksonville may look to add a rookie to develop at the position. The Jaguars are a team which could make a playoff run next season with improved play at the quarterback position. Getting Blackmon back in the lineup can only help, too.
Jake Locker has struggled with consistency and health during his brief career. Ryan Fitzpatrick should return to offer depth at the position. There is a legitimate chance that the Titans draft a passer to either develop or push Locker, who has done little to gain the trust of the new coaching staff … or the former one, for that matter. Keep in mind that most new regimes want to hand-pick a quarterback. At running back, Chris Johnson is expected to be released, leaving the plodding Shonn Greene as the defacto starter unless a veteran is signed in free agency or a back selected in May's NFL Draft, or both. The Johnson saga will be interesting to watch play out. Good looking young receiver Kendall Wright will start in 2014 and going forward. Nate Washington should start on the other side, even with the potential Justin Hunter showed as a rookie. Kenny Britt will leave Tennessee as an undrafted free agent and will offer upside at a cheap price. Expect Britt to land with a veteran, competing team, one with a strong locker room. Hunter has a high ceiling, but will need to prove his maturity in 2014. At tight end, Delanie Walker will return as the starter, with Craig Stevens and Taylor Thompson providing depth. This is a team with several good, young pieces …. and the Titans need upgrades at quarterback and running back.
Peyton Manning returns to lead the Broncos to another deep playoff push. Manning is backed up by Brock Osweiler and Zac Dysert. There is positive buzz around Osweiler to be Manning's successor. Starting tailback Knowshon Moreno is likely gone in free agency, opening the door for Montee Ball to step up and seize the workload. Youngsters C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman will look to assert themselves in training camp. Cecil Lammey has reported that Anderson does have supporters within the organization. It would not be a surprise if a veteran back was added to provide depth at a cheap price; someone like Ahmad Bradshaw or Rashad Mendenhall would make sense. A middle round pick on the position would not be a surprise, either. At the wide receiver position, Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker return while Eric Decker enters free agency and exits Denver. Decker was solid in the Broncos offense, but his asking price might be prohibitive for the team with several needs on the defensive side of the ball. There will be several cheaper options available in free agency. Depth will be a key as even Andre Caldwell's contract up. Julius Thomas will look to build upon his breakout season. Joel Dreessen, Jacob Tamme, and Virgil Green will be used in two-tight end sets and serve as reserves. Even without Moreno and Decker, this offense could still be as prolific as this past season, as long as Manning is healthy.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs were the surprise team with Alex Smith leading the charge. He played well, not making mistakes, and relying on the running game. Chase Daniel will be back to serve behind Smith. Each should improve with another year under Andy Reid's watchful direction. Jamaal Charles is coming off a monster season, and is poised to repeat the outing in Reid's offense. Knile Davis flashed some as a rookie and will team with Cyrus Gray to spell Charles. A powerful back could be selected in the middle rounds to provide a complement to Charles. Dwayne Bowe produced much better numbers late in the season, and should continue to be inconsistent in terms of targets and fantasy production. Donnie Avery should start across from Bowe with inexperienced A.J. Jenkins and Junior Hemingway looking to overtake Avery. Dexter McCluster is a free agent and will likely sign with another team. His skills are not an ideal fit for Reid's offense. Anthony Fasano and Travis Kelce will anchor the tight end position. Fasano's blocking is a boost to the running game. Kelce is coming off a lost year due to injury. He has plenty of upside, and needs to take a step in his development in order to surpass the veteran. Sean McGrath returns for depth. Kansas City is a team led by a strong defense and running game. Smith and the passing game will not be asked to do much, thus limiting fantasy values for all but Charles.
San Diego Chargers
Philip Rivers had a great rebound season in 2013 and could repeat the effort. Brad Sorensen is his backup. Surprisingly, Ryan Mathews made it through a season without a major injury, and he rewarded fantasy owners by putting up good numbers. Danny Woodhead is back in the change of pace role. He will continue to be startable for fantasy owners, especially in PPR leagues. Keenan Allen will look to build upon a very good rookie year. Vincent Brown and Eddie Royal are expected to also start, even though neither is a fantasy option unless extremely desperate. Malcom Floyd is struggling to return from a neck injury. He could never play football again at the professional level. Danario Alexander had a recent knee surgery and is an impending free agent. Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green will provide dual safety nets for their quarterback. San Diego will look for ways to get both on the field often. Rivers and Mathews are the keys to the offense. This is a tough division and the Chargers could take a step back against strong competition.
The Raiders will look to upgrade the lacking quarterback situation led by Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin. Most discussion has revolved around whether Oakland will either sign a veteran quarterback like Michael Vick or draft a quarterback early in the draft … or both. Tailbacks Darren McFadden and Rashad Jennings are free agents. However, Jennings is expected to be re-signed by the Raiders. Latavius Murray is a player to watch. He is an intriguing prospect, but is still very raw. Oakland will have a renewed running game with possibly two or three players added. There are a few solid prospects in the draft on the third day. McFadden has added little to the offense in the recent past, yet some will see his upside and pounce. Denarius Moore could have a breakout season with a quarterback upgrade. It is difficult to have a big season with Pryor and McGloin under center. Rod Streeter will be back as a solid possession receiver. Thanksgiving Day star Andre Holmes and Juron Criner will depth for the Raiders. Monitor the progress of Brice Butler who was a top high school prospect and is very athletic. Young tight ends Mychal Rivera, David Ausberry, and Nick Kasa will make the position one of strength for the Raiders. Rivera, especially, has a chance to land on the fantasy radar in 2014. The+- fantasy potential of this offense will be determined by the quarterback and running back upgrades. This could be a prolific offense with the right additions.
Feel free to email me (Tefertiller@Footballguys.com) with feedback. Also, I am on Twitter (www.Twitter.com/JeffTefertiller), LinkedIn, and Google+, so you can ask me questions on one of these as well.
Dynasty Roster Check: AFC