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This series of articles will examine the fantasy impact of the offseason moves, both via free agency and through the NFL Draft.
The Texans replaced Gary Kubiak in the offseason. Bill O'Brien was brought in from Penn State. O'Brien spent several years in New England and will try to bring the Patriots winning tradition to Houston. The Texans are a veteran team needing quality quarterback play in order to make a playoff run.
Matt Schaub was jettisoned and now plays in Oakland. He was replaced with Tennessee cast off Ryan Fitzpatrick. Other than a strong start in Buffalo a few years ago, Fitzpatrick has not played well. He is not a long-term option. Even with all of the talent on offense, there is no way the Texans make the playoffs if Fitzpatrick plays like he did in Tennessee. O'Brien is known as a quarterback developer and will need to work his magic on Fitzpatrick. The team selected big-armed Tom Savage in May's NFL Draft. Savage is raw and needs work, but still has a chance to overtake Fitzpatrick. The veteran, while smart (played college football at Harvard), lacks the arm strength to make the throws needed in the NFL. Savage can make these throws. He just needs polish, lots of polish. Case Keenum is still on the roster as the third quarterback. If the Texans do not have a strong season, and end up with a high pick in next year's draft, expect quarterback to be the selection. This is too veteran of a team to have such a deficiency at the position. There are even rumors floating around that Houston might trade for O'Brien's former pupil, Ryan Mallett. Something to watch this preseason.
Arian Foster is back, and remains the focal point of the offense. He was injured for most of the 2013 season. The talent is there. Foster just needs to stay on the field. This preseason, he has struggled with a hamstring injury. With the issues at the quarterback position, Foster may be relied heavily upon. Ben Tate has departed for the Cleveland Browns. Andre Brown signed from the New York Giants. He, too, is talented but struggles with injuries. Brown languished with injuries and could not get on the field for training camp. So, the team released the veteran running back Monday. Rookie Alfred Blue ill provide depth. With the injury-history of Foster, and Blue a rookie, keep an eye on Jonathan Grimes. He flashed potential a year ago, in limited duty.
Andre Johnson is poised for another strong campaign. He was Schaub's favorite target for years and now transitions to a new passer. Johnson has showed no signs of slowing down, but is mired with a hamstring injury of his own. Houston selected DeAndre Hopkins in the first round of the 2013 draft. Hopkins is a future star. He had a turbulent rookie season but is talented. Keshawn Martin is the favorite to line up in the slot. DeVier Posey and journeyman Mike Thomas are fighting for roster spots. Dynasty owners may want to wait until Hopkins struggles with Fitzpatrick under center to acquire the youngster. The results will not be pretty. O'Brien will want to upgrade the position so the future looks bright for Hopkins.
Owen Daniels followed coach Kubiak to Baltimore. This leaves Garrett Graham as the starter at tight end. Rookie C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin will vie for blocking duties. Graham is the tight end to own in fantasy leagues, at least in the short term.
With Andrew Luck gearing up for a strong season, expectations are sky high. Luck is a difference maker in the division. Some in Indianapolis are thinking Super Bowl this season. If the team has a chance, Luck, the running game, and a young defense will all need to steadily improve.
Andrew Luck is looking to take the next step in his development and become the top flight quarterback many expect. He will be backed up by veteran Matt Hasselbeck. Last year, the Colts signed Hasselbeck to hold the clipboard behind the youngster. Many forget that Hasselbeck started his career buried behind Brett Favre in Green Bay. He is an experienced veteran who should provide great feedback and guidance for the third-year pro.
The running back position should be a committee again this season. The Colts want Trent Richardson to step up and take over as the primary ball carrier. He was acquired midseason for a first round pick. Richardson is still very young, but lacks vision and ability to make defenders miss. After Vick Ballard was lost for the season a few weeks ago, Ahmad Bradshaw is the lone ball carrier to push Richardson. Youngsters Zurlon Tipton and Davin Meggett are guys to watch with Richardon's history of ineffectiveness and Bradshaw's recent injuries.
Reggie Wayne is coming off a knee injury but looks to be back to full health by week one. He has Luck's trust. T.Y. Hilton looks to build upon a strong season. Hilton could emerge to become the top pass catcher for Indianapolis this year. His speed is evident and adds a dimension to the offense. Hakeem Nicks signed a one-year deal to come to the Colts. It is uncertain whether he still can be a star. The weak free agent market for his services may indicate that most teams think he is done. Wayne and Nicks are free agents after the season so Donte Moncrief was drafted in May. Moncrief is a big, strong, and very fast pass catcher. He has all of the tools needed to be a star in the NFL. The only thing missing is the finer points of the position. Learning from Wayne in practice this year will do wonders for the rookie. He is still very young, just turning 21 years of age a few days ago. Moncrief and Hilton are the future starters at the receiver position. Da'Rick Rogers and Grif Whalen will battle for a roster spot.
Indianapolis drafted two tight ends in the 2012 NFL Draft, Coby Fleener (Luck's college teammate) and Dwayne Allen. Allen missed most of the 2013 season with a hip injury but is now healthy. Even though Fleener was more highly regarded coming into the NFL, it is Allen who is the bigger fantasy factor. Fleener is more of a blocker while Allen is a strong receiver.
The Jaguars have not been competitive for several years. This could be the season that Jacksonville sneaks up and wins games others think impossible. There is increasing talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The offense is very young and will need a season to gel.
Blaine Gabbert was traded to San Francisco for peanuts, but the team was happy to move in a new direction. Back is Chad Henne, who is expected to start the first part of the season. Blake Bortles was selected with the third overall pick and has the look of a ten-year starter at the position. The team has stated they want to sit Bortles all season. He could play sooner – and still be better than Henne – but why rush him until he is ready? With the youth on offense, Jacksonville will take their time developing Bortles.
Maurice Jones-Drew was sent packing, and signed with the Oakland Raiders. He was replaced with Toby Gerhart from Minnesota. It is far from certain that Gerhart will be an upgrade as is expected. Plus, some will question his durability moving from a part-time player to an every-down runner. There is much depth behind Gerhart in case he falters. Jordan Todman, Denard Robinson, and late-round rookie Storm Johnson are in the mix. Todman is more of a change-of-pace back but can squeeze out an expanded role if given the opportunity. Robinson is a converted quarterback still learning how to play the running back position. Both are talented. So is Johnson. Expect Jacksonville to try to establish the running game and keep the pressure off Henne.
Justin Blackmon is indefinitely suspended. He played only four games last season, in between suspensions. Blackmon is a player who needs help. All of the talent is there to be one of the elite NFL wide receivers. Cecil Shorts returns to start, when healthy. Shorts has found it difficult to remain on the field over his short career. Given the status of these two veterans, the Jaguars found it necessary to draft a pair of talented rookies high in the NFL Draft, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. Lee looks like an instant starter. He could be the 2014 version of Keenan Allen, a player who slipped in the NFL Draft but is a bona fide star in the making. Robinson is talented as well and will look to overtake Shorts in the starting lineup as soon as he is back from a hamstring injury. With a rookie quarterback, and a pair of talented rookie receivers, the Jaguars passing game looks to be in good shape for years to come.
Marcedes Lewis is back and hoping for improved play from the quarterback position and offensive line (so he will not have to stay in and block). Behind him is Clay Harbor, a strong pass catcher discarded by Philadelphia a year ago. Lewis could be a Top 10 fantasy tight end if Henne plays well.
The NFL is a quarterback league so the Tennessee Titans will continue to struggle until the team upgrades the position. The coaching staff has turned over, and the defense strengthened via free agency. Still, the win total this year will be reflective of the quarterback play.
Jake Locker is back under center for the Titans. While his athleticism gives fans hope for the future, the passer lacks consistency, especially in his passing completion percentage. The former eighth overall pick has struggled completing passes through his collegiate and professional careers. His team needs him to settle down and complete the routine throws. Yes, Locker has a big arm and the ability to escape the pocket and run, but that is meaningless when the completion percentage is under 60% … as is Locker's throughout his pro career. As noted above, Ryan Fitzpatrick is now in Houston. He was replaced by Charlie Whitehurst, a below average backup. On a side note, Whitehurst (a big-armed passer) lost an arm-wrestling match against the punter to decide which number each would wear. Not a confidence builder. Zach Mettenberger was drafted in the sixth round out of LSU. Mettenberger is getting up to full speed from a knee injury, but should push Whitehurst immediately. With Locker's injury history, one of these two (or both) backups could start multiple games. In addition, with Locker a free agent after the season, Mettenberger could get a long look if the team is far out of contention. The Titans will want to know whether they have a future starter or need to spend a high draft pick on the quarterback position in the 2015 draft.
Chris Johnson was allowed to walk in free agency, and he landed in New York with the Jets. Shonn Greene, and his dwindling yards per carry average, return to Tennessee. Bishop Sankey was drafted out of Washington to replace Johnson. Sankey lacks Johnson's speed but is a solid all-around. Dexter McCluster and Jackie Battle were added to provide depth. With middling quarterback play, this running back corps will be relied upon to carry the offense many games.
The wide receiver position is talented and deep for Tennessee, even with Kenny Britt leaving for St. Louis. Kendall Wright should take a big step forward in year two of his transition to the NFL. He could approach 1,100 yards if the quarterback play is just average. The team is expecting Justin Hunter to be the big-play receiver. He has made spectacular plays so far in training camp, and is a player on the rise. Nate Washington is still in the mix and provides veteran leadership for the two youngsters. It is difficult to tell how talented the top youngsters really are with Locker and Fitzpatrick under center. It may be 2015 before either really burst onto the scene.
Delanie Walker is back and looking to build upon an underrated 2013 campaign. He could catch 60-70 passes this season. Behind him on the depth chart is Craig Stevens and Taylor Thompson. Thompson is athletic but never able to put it all together.
The division is still the Colts' to lose, because the quarterback play of Luck is that much superior to the others. Houston could make the playoffs, but will require vastly improved quarterback play. Jacksonville and Tennessee look to be lucky to finish .500, with each hovering around six wins.
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