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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.
New England Patriots
The more things change everywhere else, the more they stay the same in Foxboro. Even the changes made help the Patriots look the same in many ways. This is a balanced offense with a very strong defense.
Quarterback: Tom Brady returns to anchor the New England offense. The suspension, and now appeal, could hinder his short-team fantasy upside but the weapons are there for a strong 2015 season. His backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, should see the field earlier than expected due to the Brady suspension. The second-year passer is developing and could open eyes if given the chance. He is viewed as the likely Brady successor and could solidify that opinion with strong play. It is not as though the future Hall of Famer is young or needs the money. He could retire any year.
Running Back: Stevan Ridley was not re-signed and departed in free agency. Shane Vereen also left. Both went to New York teams, Ridley to the Jets and Vereen to the Giants. Many would see these departures as devastating. But, New England is in good shape at the running back position. LeGarrette Blount signed midseason of 2014 (after his release from the Steelers) and added a power running dimension to the Patriots offense. James White was drafted a year ago to compete for playing time, but could never see the field. He will compete with newly-signed Tarvaris Cadet for playing time. Many may remember Cadet from his days in New Orleans. Though undersized, Cadet could offer a spark in the passing game. Jonas Gray, Brandon Bolden, and Tyler Gaffney will compete for the scraps. Of the group, Gray has the best chance to see playing time early in the season while Blount is suspended. He has the potential to put up big fantasy numbers if given the chance. Also, there is always the possibility that the team brings in a veteran like Ahmad Bradshaw, Knowshon Moreno, or Pierre Thomas.
Wide Receiver: The receiving corps looks a lot like the one last year. Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman will start. The issue is that both are more of possession receivers and less of big-play players. Expect Aaron Dobson and Danny Amendola to vie for the third receiver spot. Dobson has all of the physical tools to succeed but has yet to put it all together. Newly signed Brandon Gibson, Josh Boyce, and Bryan Tyms will try to earn playing time. This is a boring – yet productive – fantasy corps. LaFell and Edelman are likely solid fantasy starters again this season in PPR leagues.
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski is healthy and is the top tight end in the league for fantasy owners. He is the cornerstone of the Patriots passing game. There is little talent behind him on the depth chart. Ex-Bill Scott Chandler, Michael Hoomanawanui, and Timothy Wright will rotate through the lineup in two tight end sets.
Miami has been a team looking to take the next step toward the NFL Playoffs for several years. Many are excited about the 2015 Dolphins. The team has added talent on both sides of the ball.
Quarterback: Many dynasty owners expect a large improvement from Ryan Tannehill, just like many last year. This is a risky proposition. It is getting close to now-or-never time for the athletic quarterback. Tannehill has flashed talent every season but as yet to turn the potential into production. The young quarterback has a poor pocket presence and costs his team sacks, even though Tannehill is one of the best athletes on the squad. In his defense, Tannehill has not played quarterback a long time and is still learning the nuances of the position. He will be backed up by Matt Moore. Moore is a capable veteran, able to lead the offense if thrust into duty. Josh Freeman was just signed to provide a “camp arm” for the Dolphins.
Running Back: After the Knowshon Moreno injury a year ago, Lamar Miller entrenched himself in the starting role. Miller is talented, but will need to prove he can produce with a larger workload. The issue is that the coaching staff has limited Miller's touches. Last year, with few other options, Miller still only carried the ball 216 times, never topping 20 carries even once. The Dolphins added Jay Ajayi in the NFL Draft. Ajayi slipped in the draft over long-term concern with his knee. This should not impact the rookie for the next couple of years. The Miller-Ajayi combination should be great for Miami and not so great for fantasy owners.
Wide Receiver: The wide receiver group will look much differently this year as opposed to 2014. Mike Wallace was traded to Minnesota. He was replaced when the team traded for Kenny Stills from New Orleans. This move saved the Dolphins millions of dollars and dumped an unhappy player. Stills will join Jarvis Landry in the starting lineup. Landry was a reception machine a year ago and has proven himself to Tannehill. Miami also drafted DeVante Parker in the first round. Parker could be the star of the group in time. As though the Dolphins had not given Tannehill enough weapons, veteran Greg Jennings was signed as a free agent. These four receivers will help their quarterback immensely. This is a good group of pass catchers.
Tight End: Charles Clay was allowed to leave as a restricted free agent. Buffalo gave him a lot of money to go north. Miami replaced Clay with Jordan Cameron, who played in Cleveland. Cameron is a very athletic tight end who has struggled with injuries most of his professional career. Dion Sims and Arthur Lynch back up Cameron. Those looking for Cameron to produce fantasy starter numbers might be disappointed. The Dolphins rarely target the tight end position and the injuries could factor in as well.
Rex Ryan takes his show further upstate in New York, up to Buffalo. Fantasy owners should look at Ryan's history as a head coach in an effort to how he will use the weapons on the Bills offense. He is a creature of habit.
Quarterback: Two years ago, Buffalo traded down in the first round of the NFL Draft, then selected EJ Manuel. While he has a high ceiling, and is coachable, there has been such a steep learning curve that Manuel has struggled to assert his hold on the starting job. His slow development was one of the main reasons coach Marrone is no longer the Buffalo head coach. For this reason, after Ryan took over, Buffalo traded for Matt Cassel from Minnesota. Cassel should be viewed as the favorite to start. Also, the team signed Tyrod Taylor, who played in Baltimore the past few years. Taylor is very athletic. He is a darkhorse for the starting gig.
Running Back: The Bills have made big changes at the running back position. C.J. Spiller was allowed to leave in free agency. Fred Jackson is back, but he is not assured a job on the final roster. But, the big news is the acquisition of LeSean McCoy via trade from Philadelphia. McCoy will get the lion's share of the touches. A year ago, the Bills traded for Bryce Brown and he will be added to the mix. Brown is very talented and possibly will be groomed to replace Jackson. Anthony Dixon is a bruiser who picks up tough yards between the tackles and has good vision for spotting the cut back lane. Given the quarterback situation, the running game could be relied upon heavily to carry the Bills offense.
Wide Receiver: A year ago, the Bills traded up for Sammie Watkins and have high hopes that the former Clemson star can be a difference-maker in the NFL. The issue is that Buffalo gave this year's first round pick to do so. Percy Harvin signed in Buffalo to add another dimension to the Bills offense. It will be interesting to see how the team uses him. Robert Woods returns also. Woods is a talented, young player, who will be overshadowed by Watkins and Harvin. Dezmin Lewis was drafted this season and will try to gains playing time over speedster Marquise Goodwin and Chris Hogan. The weapons are there if the quarterback play improves.
Tight End: The addition of Charles Clay only adds another play maker to the offense. He could make some big plays but will be inconsistent for fantasy owners. MarQueis Gray, rookie Nick O'Leary, and Chris Gragg will compete for two roster spots and playing time.
New York Jets
Rex Ryan was replaced by Todd Bowles this offseason. The only big change for fantasy owners to consider is the addition of offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. Gailey will get the most out of the offense. Look for more spread offense and Gailey will use three receivers much more than the previous regime.
Quarterback: Geno Smith was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft to be the long-term starter. He has yet to play well enough to become the unquestioned starter. He will have plenty of competition in training camp for the job. The Jets acquired Ryan Fitzpatrick to give a veteran presence to the situation. In addition. Bryce Petty was drafted as a developmental prospect. If the two veterans struggle, expect fans to call for the rookie. But, the job will be up to Fitzpatrick (and his noodle arm) to lose.
Running Back: New York jettisoned Chris Johnson and signed Stevan Ridley. Ridley should be viewed as a committee back, sharing time with Chris Ivory. Ivory is a tough runner, bulling his way through defenses. Late in this year's NFL Draft, Zac Stacy was acquired for almost nothing. Bilal Powell is back and will provide depth. He is serviceable but not a playmaker. Daryl Richardson is a speedy player who offers something the other backs do not. Ridley, Ivory, and Stacy are all big, bruising backs. Powell and Richardson will see the field in passing situations. Under Gailey, Powell could be the back who plays the most.
Wide Receiver: New York traded for Brandon Marshall. He should provide leadership to the middling receiving corps. The quarterback play could hold Marshall's fantasy numbers back compared to the gunslinging Cutler. Eric Decker was the top receiver a year ago. Decker is a good blocker and solid pass catcher. Rookie Devin Smith will be utilized as a deep threat. He has speed for days. Jeremy Kerley is back as a possession receiver. Devier Posey was signed from Houston. New York drafted Shaq Evans and Quincy Enunwa last year and they will look to make the roster. This is the best group of receivers the Jets have had in many years.
Tight End: Jeff Cumberland will battle sophomore Jace Amaro for the starting gig. Cumberland is a good blocker and average receiver. Amaro is a great receiver and able to make plays after the catch. He often lined up as a slot receiver at Texas Tech and is a better pass catcher than run blocker. The addition of Gailey could help Amaro as much as any on the Jets offense. The quarterback play will hold each back from fantasy viability.
This division may not be a cakewalk for the Patriots like in the past. Both Buffalo and Miami could win enough contests to make it a race. There is a chance that all four teams finish above .500. Each team has a strong defense and could rely on the running game more than before.
Please feel free to email me (Tefertiller@Footballguys.com) with any questions or comments. Also, I am on Twitter (www.Twitter.com/JeffTefertiller), LinkedIN, and Google+ so feel free to connect where most