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Training camp openings are coming, so it's time to focus our attention on the changes, injury recoveries, and position battles that will inform our last tweaks to our draft boards before we draft. It's also good to record our thoughts on the direction of the offense as it affects fantasy bottom lines before camp and preseason twists and turns make us doubt what we have spent months mulling over waiting for football to come back. I'll try to give insight into where I think the puck is going with these teams, because like Wayne Gretzky said, we should skate there instead of where the puck has been, i.e. last year's results.
Offensive Change(s) to Watch: Buffalo has made no major changes to the offense heading into 2016.
Injury Situation(s) to Watch: Sammy Watkins had surgery to correct a stress fracture in his foot back in April, and while there have been optimistic statements at times, nothing is certain about his timetable to return to play.
Position Battle(s) to Watch: #2 running back Karlos Williams was already out of shape and now he is missing the first four games with a substance abuse policy violation. The team has reached out to Reggie Bush. They also have Mike Gillislee, who was surprisingly effective late last year, fifth-round pick Jonathan Williams, who missed 2015 with a foot injury, but also got arrested for DWI this year, pure power back James Wilder Jr, and Boom Herron, who pitched in a hand at times last year. LeSean McCoy suffered multiple injuries last year and could be on the verge of a breakdown. With this team’s penchant for running the ball, knowing the #2 behind McCoy will be important.
Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: The Bills offense is very fragile with Watkins already recovering from an injury, key pieces Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy coming off of seasons with multiple missed games, the backup running back situation unsettled, and nothing proven after the top two wide receivers on the depth chart. Even if we assume full health for Taylor, Watkins, and McCoy, I am disinclined to predict that an offense on a Rex Ryan team will exceed expectations. It’s easy to picture this team having stretches of offensive futility. Break ties against Bills in your drafts.
Offensive Change(s) to Watch: Offensive-minded Adam Gase got his first head coaching job in Miami this offseason, and his main job is to evict the malaise the Joe Philbin brought to the unit and building. Clyde Christensen previously oversaw Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck at his last stop, so one assumes that this offense will be Tannehill-centric. Lamar Miller and Arian Foster swapped teams this offseason, paving the way for Jay Ajayi to have a larger role this season. The team gave up a lot of draft capital to get WR Leonte Carroo in the third round, but players like Jordan Cameron and Kenny Stills have a clean slate to endear themselves to the new coaches and reverse 2015 declines. DeVante Parker will hopefully have an injury-free summer and enter the 2016 with momentum, giving him a real chance to show what he’s capable of. Rishard Matthews left to Tennessee in free agency after a small breakout in 2015. Basically, everything except Jarvis Landry’s central role in the passing game is on the table here.
Injury Situation(s) to Watch: Foster is coming off of an achilles tear, but has pronounced himself 100% healthy. DeVante Parker missed some time this offseason with an injury that the team assures us is not related to his left foot that derailed his career for a year. An injury-free summer would be great, one that garners kudos for development would be even better.
Position Battle(s) to Watch: Ajayi should enter camp as the starter, but if Foster’s body responds and Ajayi struggles after a strong offseason, that could be in question. Carroo was getting first-team reps this spring after the team gave up a lot to get him in the draft, and Kenny Stills has no reputation with the new regime.
Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: The Dolphins offense seemed to lack identity under Joe Philbin, whereas Gase seemed to get some of the best play of Peyton Manning and Jay Cutler’s careers in his last two stops before becoming a head coach. Ryan Tannehill should have the best year of his career, and at least a second receiving threat should emerge out of Parker/Carroo/Cameron/Stills. Foster will contribute as a role player, but Ajayi should have every chance to seize control of this backfield, and he has the talent to do it.
Offensive Change(s) to Watch: The addition of Martellus Bennett gives the team their best two tight end look since Aaron Hernandez was in the league, and this time both tight ends can block. The offense lost its best back, wide receiver, and both starting tackles by the end of the season and should be ready to fire on all cylinders if all hands are on deck, although Jimmy Garoppolo will start the first four games of the season with Tom Brady finally giving up on appealing and accepting his Deflategate punishment of a four-game suspension.
Injury Situation(s) to Watch: Dion Lewis is coming back from a torn ACL, Julian Edelman is coming back from a second left foot surgery, Danny Amendola is coming back off of knee and ankle surgery, and LeGarrette Blount is coming from a hip injury that was believed to not require surgery, but Blount has been out for the entire offseason.
Position Battle(s) to Watch: After Dion Lewis, the running back spot for the Patriots is rife with uncertainty. James White was a top 15 PPR running back after Lewis went out, but Donald Brown could push him for playing time. Brown got 300,000 dollars guaranteed on his deal, which is 200,000 more than LeGarrette Blount, although the Patriots don’t have a proven “big back” behind Blount, unless you count Tyler Gaffney. The Patriots were linked to Arian Foster before he signed with Miami, so a veteran like Joique Bell, Pierre Thomas, or Toby Gerhart or late camp cut could figure into this picture somehow.
Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: Bennett and Gronkowski put defenses in binds with their blocking and receiving prowess and Bennett becomes a core piece of the offense, fueling him to top 10-12 fantasy tight end numbers including 7-10 touchdowns. Lewis remains the focal point of the backfield touches and posts RB1 numbers as long as he is on the field. If the Patriots avoid the injury plague of 2015, Brady is an elite fantasy quarterback from Week 5 on, piloting one of the best New England offenses since the Randy Moss/Wes Welker days.
New York Jets
Offensive Change(s) to Watch: Will Ryan Fitzpatrick pilot this team? It appears that the impasse between him and the team over his compensation for 2016 and beyond could stretch into training camp. The smart money puts Fitzpatrick under center for Week 1, but there is a non-zero chance that this stalemate remains intact heading into season. As a veteran, he probably won’t need much time with the team to be ready, so don’t change the outlook on the Jets offense until they are forced to start Geno Smith. The running backs were overhauled, with only Bilal Powell brought back. He got almost as much money as Matt Forte, and underrated signing Khiry Robinson could figure in and make this three-headed backfield. Forte should start over Powell, but Powell will have a sizable role of his own. Disappointing 2014 second-round pick TE Jace Amaro is back after a shoulder injury cost him the 2015 season.
Injury Situation(s) to Watch: 2015 second-round WR Devin Smith suffered a torn ACL in Week 14 and he might not be ready for the season, giving more camp and preseason playing time to Quincy Enunwa, Kenbrell Thompkins, and 2016 seventh-round pick Charone Peake.
Position Battle(s) to Watch: Forte should start, but Powell was impressive late in 2015 and he could force something closer to a 50-50 split. Preseason usage and buzz could indicate more similar roles than the vast gap between Forte and Powell’s ADP suggests.
Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: Fitzpatrick not playing would be one of the more absurd outcomes of recent team/player loggerheads, so we should proceed as if he’ll play and be as successful as he was in 2015. The Chan Gailey offense should skew pass heavy with two strong pass catching backs, so the Jets are likely to once again be a source of value at quarterback and wide receiver. If injuries clear the path for one running back to get most of the snaps, they could be a PPR monster.