We're days away from the NFL pushing the giant "reset button" (hat tip to Sigmund Bloom) on many of our preseason fantasy expectations. Always one to hope for the best while preparing for the worst, here's a look around the league through the lens of "If X happens then Y (and possibly Z and a few other choice letters) will be a contributing reason."
"If...Then" is not a straight-up prediction article or a post about potential surprises. I'm sharing my thoughts and observations from the past four months of reading, watching, projecting, and ranking fantasy prospects this spring and summer. Just because I have to take a stance on a player or situation doesn't mean I don't see the alternate possibilities.
Arizona: "If Carson Palmer Is a Top-12 Fantasy Quarterback..."
Then his touchdown total will exceed 33 and he'll need a tight end to help him. I have Palmer at 28 touchdowns this year and he's sitting at No.15 in my quarterback rankings. It's possible Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd post double-digit figures in the red zone, but Palmer will need another 10-15 scores from the combo of Ted Ginn Jr, rookie John Brown, Andre Ellington, Rob Housler, and John Carlson.
Brown has everyone excited and the T.Y. Hilton comparisons are flowing. I haven't seen enough of Brown to give you a take. The fact that Brown is expected to earn 60 percent of the snaps this season is comparable to Hilton's rookie year so I get the "on paper" analysis.
The thing about Brown is he's not the traditional size of a red zone threat. It didn't stop Steve Smith or Marvin Harrison, but as a bean in a patch of beanstalks I'm waiting to see film indications of red zone prowess before I project it
On the other hand, veteran John Carlson had 12 touchdowns during his first two seasons in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks. Carlson will be the Cardinals' starter and he fits the profile of the option leaking from the line of scrimmage on play action and earning a decent mismatch.
If Palmer's fantasy production has a QB1 renaissance in 2014 then I'd expect Carlson as that hidden factor and a potential surprise as a top-12 fantasy tight end.
Atlanta: "If Matt Ryan performs as a top-10 fantasy quarterback . . . "
Then Devin Hester and Harry Douglas will be fantasy factors in 2014. Among the Footballguys scribes, I'm one of the lowest on Ryan's projected output in 2014. The reason is the loss of Tony Gonzalez -- a top-five fantasy tight end who provided top-30 fantasy production last year among wide receivers and tight ends.
Levine Toilolo is an excellent blocker and I once thought Atlanta might have drafted him to convert the big fella into a guard or tackle. Although he has good hands, he's slow, plodding, and not much of a route runner. I have no confidence in Toilolo earning more than 200-400 yards in this offense.
If Ryan is to have the type of production he earned prior to 2013 then it means Harry Douglas will need to earn another 300-500 yards and 6-7 touchdowns beyond his 2011-2012 production. Can Douglas pick up the slack? If you're seeking production between the 20s then I think Douglas can help, but I don't expect another 6-7 touchdowns coming from big plays. Douglas is a good zone receiver, but he's not that productive a runner after the catch.
But Devin Hester might be one of the best pure open field ball carriers in pro football. His skill was on display against the Titans in Week 3 of the preseason. Watching him beat Jason McCourty on a slant and then turn Bernard Pollard's knees to jello after the catch was a thing of beauty. I can see Hester contributing 300-500 yards and 5-7 scores as the third or fourth receiver on simple slants and crossing routes if Atlanta spreads the field.
The reason I see this Hester/Douglas scenario as an alternate scenario is Atlanta pinning its hopes on a power running game where Toilolo is on the field more than both Hester and Douglas. Atlanta's offensive line is better than last year, but the loss of Sam Baker in August puts a lot of pressure on rookie Jake Matthews and Lamar Holmes was a weak link for the line last year.
I'm not counting on the Hester/Douglas duo making up for the loss of Gonzalez, but if Matt Ryan does attain the fantasy production most are expecting then it's likely these two options filling in the logical gap the future Hall of Famer left behind.
Most fantasy owners are considering Douglas as a late option, but I would not sleep too hard on Hester, who won't have to run a lot of those intermediate and deep routes that he was not all that good at in Chicago. There could be a lot of nice catch and run opportunities for Hester as the No.3 or No.4 in Atlanta.
Buffalo: "If C.J. Spiller has The Season He's capable of . . . "
Then we're talking about 1300-1500 rushing yards and double-digit touchdowns (combined rushing and receiving) and no other running back on the Bills' roster will be a legitimate factor. Fred Jackson is old, Bryce Brown is immature, and Anthony Dixon is considered hired help who will do more on special teams than from the backfield.
I'm not buying it because Jackson still looks pretty good, Brown has Doug Marrone talking about him as a future starter, and Dixon has earned goal line looks in the preseason. Spiller has never scored more than six rushing touchdowns in the NFL.
You don't earn double-digit rushing touchdowns in the NFL without goal line carries unless you're Barry Sanders. Being C.J. Spiller is pretty special for an NFL back, but Spiller is no Sanders when it comes to tackle-breaking, change of direction, and proven ability to handle workloads in teh range of 300-340 carries.
I can see the cliff for Jackson and while Brown has as much talent (in a different style) as Spiller, he's not as seasoned and there has been a touch of "I know better than you," to his approach to football since he left high school that could still be an obstacle to his long-term development. And as much as I've always thought Dixon had potential as a rugged back, he's not a high-end talent.
So if Spiller has the season he's capable of attaining, then the Bills will have to believe at least two of these three backs cannot provide support in a committee and/or the goal line. It's possible, but not probable.
Carolina: "If Jonathan Stewart Can stay Healthy and produce to his prodigious talent . . ."
Then I've just been signed by the Vikings to replace Adrian Peterson as an upgrade to the Minnesota backfield. Seriously, let's try to entertain the notion that Stewart can stay healthy all year (which would be a major surprise alone). If Stewart can get the job done this year then we're looking at a confluence of factors that open the ground game:
- Cam Newton is healthy enough to produce in the passing game, but his foot/ankle (and now ribs) continue to limit him as a scrambler/runner.
- Kelvin Benjamin catches 70-80 targets and scores 12-15 times.
- Jerricho Cotchery catches 70-80 targets.
- Greg Olsen catches 70-80 targets.
- DeAngelo Williams earns less than 120 carries.
I think the Newton factor is edging toward probability. I'm doubting we'll see a lot of Newtonian plunges at the goal line this year, which helps Stewart's likelihood of earning double-digit touchdowns. The Benjamin scenario is possible because Newton has targeted the rookie quite a bit and Benjamin has looked sharper this summer than he did at Florida State. I'm still not sold on double-digit touchdown totals, but the possibility is there because NFL defenses are notorious for figuring out how to play a new option for at least the first 4-6 weeks of the season.
Cotchery will be that check-down, safety blanket capable of being where Newton needs him. But you wonder if Newton is game to rely on the new guy that way when he has Olsen and he's enamored with Benjamin. Newton is smart enough to recognize a veteran option when he has one.
For Olsen to have meaningful targets in this high-end total of 70-80 catches, Benjamin will have to open the field in ways that Olsen hasn't seen even with Steve Smith in the lineup. Benjamin does have that potential to become a guy who gets bracketed.
Each of these first four factors are possible and not too far from probable. Where I balk is the 120 carries from Williams. It means the mighty mite gets hurt or rendered ineffective. In case you haven't noticed, Williams has a career yards per carry average of 4.8 and even his 4.3 and 4.2 marks from 2012-2013 aren't bad.
I'm game for the possibility of Newton and the receiving corps opening the field for the ground game, but I'm not up for predicting injury to a durable, efficient back who has not had a heavy workload throughout his career. But if Williams goes down and Stewart stays healthy then don't be surprised if Stewart is a top-10 fantasy back in 2014.
Chicago: "If Jay Cutler Throws for 5,000 yards . . . "
Then Santonio Holmes will catch 800-900 yards worth of passes. I have the duo of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery catching a combined 185 passes for 2600 yards and 19 touchdowns between them. Martellus Bennett is down for 57-665-5 and Matt Forte earns 70-552-3 in my projections spreadsheet.
These totals, plus smaller outputs from Cutler's supporting cast of contributors/non-starters gets the Bears quarterback within range of 4500 yards. I have Marquess Wilson and Santonio Holmes at a total of 45 catches for 600 yards and 3 scores. The Bears will need to get Holmes or Wilson within shouting distance of 1000 yards for Cutler to exceed 5000 yards this year.
Holmes is capable. He's still talented enough to make this No.3 role the easiest football gig he's ever had and for a team where there is no dysfunction between quarterback, coach, and the three units on the field or in the locker room. Just two years ago Holmes was considered a solid primary receiver in temrs of talent. Now he'll draw the mismatch in Chicago and he still has the explosion and route skills to dominate in these situations.
A factor that may decide whether this happens is how much the Bears defense factors into the game script. If Chicago's defense forces the offense to continue executing an aggressive gameplan from wire-to-wire then Holmes could figure more prominently into fantasy owners' plans. I think the ground game and defense will play well enough to avoid this game script just enough that Holmes' production is not a consistent thing. However, I'm not counting it out, either.
Cleveland: "If Isaiah Crowell Becomes AFC Rookie of The year . . . "
Then Ben Tate will need to get hurt, Terrance West will have to play like he has this preseason, and Miles Austin will have to stay healthy. Allow me to explain further because I realize that the first statement seems likely, the second statement seems odd, and the third statement is like saying the sky will turn as black as sackcloth at mid-day.
I should also comment that the title statement seems crazier than the other three because we're talking about a back who needed a big second half in the fourth game of the preseason to make the Browns' roster, right? Not really.
By that same logic, Matthew Tucker and Henry Josey wouldn't have been cut in Philadelphia after their strong performances and Chris Polk slow to recover from injury. The presason games are often said to be a major indicator of how football teams evaluate talent, but it is not always the case.
The question has been asked, "Why did the Browns show what they had in Crowell in the final preseason game when they might have been able to cut Crowell and add him to the practice squad?" This is a naive thought. Everyone in the NFL knows Crowell's talent. You don't become SEC Freshman of The Year and not get noticed by the NFL.
Crowell is arguably the most talented back in this draft class and would have held his own with the likes of Eddie Lacy, Giovani Bernard, Le'Veon Bell, and Christine Michael if he was judged against last year's top talents. But as I've said since February, talent isn't everything.
If I were leading an NFL organization, I'd want to delay Crowell's gratification as a player and see how he holds up when asked to practice at the ass end of the RB depth chart with little playing time in games. I want to know if his work ethic will remain intact and if he's truly acting on everything he's saying about gaining maturity.
I know he's talented. William Green was talented when he came to Cleveland, but he let life off the field get the best of him.
Crowell is more talented than Tate and West, but Tate is a veteran and West is a worker. We know Tate's health hasn't been the strength of his professional career and having screws removed from an ankle injury against doctors' recommendations is a questionable thing.
West looked good in medium-intensity scrimmages, but as August progressed he wasn't as impressive. as I've said in the past, West doesn't have great burst or higher-end vision and he's not as impressive against a higher level of athlete when hitting is allowed. If West continues to play poorly (2.7 yards per carry against mostly second and third stringers in the preseason), Crowell will get his shot to earn the No.2 spot on the Browns' depth chart.
But the biggest factor for the Browns ground game may be Miles Austin staying healthy. If the veteran can become a consistent intermediate and vertical threat for Cleveland, opposing defenses won't crowd the box. This is the part of the plan in the fantasy football alternate universe that I don't mind banking on when it comes to late round value picks I can discard painlessly. However, relying on Austin to help another player or set of players in Cleveland is little more than something I can envision, but I won't be acting on it right now.
Dallas: "If The Cowboys Defense performs far better than expected . . . "
Then DeMarco Murray could earn a combined 1700 yards from scrimmage. It's an indication of how talented Murray is when healthy. As it is I have Murray catching 53 passes for 395 yards and a touchdown and that's with Lance Dunbar earning 25 catches as a first-line substitue in a minor committee situation.
The issue is carries. If Murray can manage 300 carries, the Cowboys have the line and passing game to help the Dallas runner near nearly 4.5 yards per carry. I'm not buying that the defense can stop anyone for Murray to earn more than 15 carries per game (245 in a season).
Unless the Dallas defense out-performs its lowly expectations or the opposing offenses look worse (and Washington and New York have the potential to fall into a deep enough hole to help Dallas play ball control at least for 25 percent of its games) due to injuries don't count on Murray as that potential upside RB1 despite his talent.
Houston: "If Andre Johnson has a Sub Par Fantasy Season . . . "
Then Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Mallett got hurt before week seven. If the mad scientist Dr. Bramelstein (the alter ego of our Dr. Jene) kidnapped the two quarterbacks and transplanted Fitzpatrick's brain into Mallett's body the Texans would have a player with the potential of Matt Stafford. As it stands today, Fitzpatrick has the mindset, but lacks the top physical skills to execute his vision and Mallett has the great arm, but often lost his poise under pressure.
Both will target Johnson aggressively to a fault, which should guarantee strong touchdown totals for the veteran receiver and enough big plays to satisfy his fantasy owners. The big question for some is how long will it take for Mallett to earn a shot to start?
We've heard rumors in major media that the Texans have inquired about Mallett in the past, including a potential draft day trade that fizzled. If you judge the trade by what the Patriots got in exchange for (a sixth round pick) then you presume Mallett is little more than depth and the team isn't satisfied with Case Keenum or Tom Savage at this stage of their development.
If you judge the trade by the fact that the Texans have been pursuing Mallett for a while then there's reason to think Houston values Mallett as a future starter and didn't have to give up as much as what the Patriots asked in return before the team drafted Jimmy Garappolo in the second round. Speaking of the rookie quarterback, Garappolo's quick decisions, athleticism, and fast release were all on display this summer. The pocket jitters weren't as pronounced as what I saw on his college tape, but he also didn't face the kind of pressure he'll see in regular season action.
Some folks believe Garappolo is the reason that the Patriots traded Mallett. I think it's a minor reason that the Patriots took a lower pick, but remember that we've heard rumblings about the Patriots shopping Mallett long before this draft so I wouldn't make the connect as strong as some are touting it.
Indianapolis: "If Andrew Luck exceeds 4,000 yards passing . . . "
Then Dwayne Allen will be a top-five fantasy tight end. Reggie Wayne's leg might be at 120 percent in some weight lifting test, but this is not a test of ligament stability or a psychological test of confidence in the leg. Hakeem Nicks may have produced well as a short-range option during the preseason, but he can't get deep on ao consistent basis anymore. And T.Y. Hilton is a talent who needs a lackluster offensive line to give him and Andrew Luck time to make the most of their potential in the vertical game.
I'll buy Wayne's knee over Nicks' legs and the offensive line's skill, but I'm still not convinced that Wayne will exceed 1000 yards this year. Although I have Luck on the precipice of 4000 yards in my projections, I've been more pessimistic about my projection of Nicks' (45-561-4), Trent Richardson's (35-315-1), Ahmad Bradshaw's (15-160-1) and Da'Rick Rodgers (8-125-2) receiving totals. This is over 1100 yards of passing that I could see being 25-45 percent lower than I've estimated and puts Luck's totals in the 3400-3600 range.
The only guy I see with the skill to compensate for Luck in this scheme is Allen. Big, strong, and versatile, I have long compared Allen to Alge Crumpler in the Falcons' tight end's prime. I have Allen at 52-550-5 this year, but if he can reach 70-775-7, then my best-case worries for the rest of the crew above could spell the difference between Luck earning 3800 yards and exceeding 4000.
I'll be betting late on Allen in remaining drafts, because I can see that upside range of 70-80 catches, 770-850 yards, and 7-10 scores for a tight end with enough athleticism to stretch the field but often in a range of the field where Luck will have enough time to look to him.
Kansas City: "If Anthony Fasano Finishes the Season as a starter . . . "
Travis Kelce is either the co-starter at tight end and the Chiefs use a high percentage of two-tight end sets or Kelce is out with a season-ending injury. If you haven't seen Kelce this summer then you've missed one of the more exciting preseason developments of any player.
Kelce's knee isn't troubling him, the Chiefs have only one receiver other than Kelce capable of being a mismatch (Dwayne Bowe) and Jamaal Charles cannot get every touch for the Chiefs offense, can he?
The second-year tight end from Cincinnati may not be as polished of a blocker as Fasano, but he has the size, strength, athleticism, and basic skill to be of great help in the ground game. Considering the Chiefs' issues with its offensive line this summer, two tight end sets could be a remedy for what ails this offense.
Alex Smith may not be a great quarterback, but he is smart enough to shift Kelce around the formation and find him mismatches I wouldn't be shocked if Kelce's 2014 upside is closer to 70 catches, 800 yards, and 12 touchdowns. He's a special athlete and one who can provide a receiver-like dimension for this offense that needs another optionfor Smith lean on.
New Orleans: "If the Saints Ground Game is to hold more than Flex value . . . "
Two of the three runners on the depth chart will be out for the season or it will be Drew Brees spending extended time at the infirmary. I'll take it a step further and say the back that throws the biggest wrench in the machinations of fantasy owners hoping for a starter value fantasy runner at a steal of a price is Pierre Thomas.
As a football purist I'm a big fan of Thomas and what he brings to the offense. As a fantasy owner I secretly want someone to lock him in his house, steal his car, wreck his smartphone, and deny him cab service if he somehow manages to break out of his home imprisonment. For the sake of old-time running back play, please leave Thomas at home and let Mark Ingram II and Khiry Robinson duke it out for feature back rights.
But we all know it won't happen unless Thomas gets hurt, because he monopolizes the screen game and redzone targets given to running backs and it accounts for difference between Ingram and/or Robinson being a high-end RB3 and a high-end RB2.
If Thomas gets hurt, the Saints ground game will hold more than flex value, but don't come looking for me. I won't be in the New Orleans area until well after the season (and I won't be thinking about football while I'm there).
New York Jets: "If Chris Johnson, Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley, and Jace Amaro Perform To Their potential . . . "
Then Geno Smith will be a vastly underrated fantasy commodity.I have Smith at 3350 yards and 22 touchdowns (25 if you count rushing scores) if he starts the entire season and doesn't incur the wrath of Rex Ryan's merry-go-round of offensive horror. If you haven't realized I'm a fan of continuity and one thing that often seems missing with defensive-minded coaches lacking offensive perspective is the concept of achieving rhythm on offense.
Smith may have been learning to play quarterback in the NFL last year, but he wasn't learning to play the position the way Stephen Hill's agent has proclaimed to the media as a grand excuse to whitewash Stephen Hill's difficulty learning how to release from the line of scrimmage; run adequate stems; learn how to use one-step, hard breaks to create separation; and win the ball in tight coverage. Sorry Hill's agent, but blaming Hill's ineptitude as a wide receiver in New York on the quarterback play is like saying the dog ate your homework for three straight years. Josh Gordon has been playing with quarterbacks that would probably have still be learning the position if they were in New York, too and it didn't stop Gordon.
Smith has been more decisive and poised this preseason and these are two aspects of his game that were positives when he starred at Virginia Tech. If his rookie tight end Amaro can continue his rapid improvement that he's shown from the beginning of training camp to the end of preseason, Smith might have three viable, consistent targets to complement a what stands to be a decent ground game.
I won't be drafting Smith, but he's on my short list of waiver wire quarterbacks.
Oakland: "If Darren McFadden Holds True to NFL Form . . . "
Then Maurice Jones-Drew could have a 1500-yard season from scrimmage. I have McFadden at 112-435-2 and Jones-Drew at 240-1006-7 (and 45-328-2 receiving). If McFadden gets dinged early, Jones-Drew's projected 18-19 touches per game could reach the 20-25 range. Even if Marcel Reece cuts into some of the receiving figures, Jones-Drew has shown enough this summer that I'm sold on him having a last hurrah in Oakland as a feature back and potential top-15 fantasy talent at his position.
Philadelphia: "If [insert skill player other than Nick Foles and Lesean mcCoy] is a fantasy force . . . "
Then you guessed well because it really is anyone's guess who will shine brightest in this offense packed with weapons. My guess is Zach Ertz and Riley Cooper as the best red zone options ater McCoy. However, there are folks who swear by Jordan Matthews, value Jeremy Maclin over Cooper, and -- like me -- don't think the Eagles got Darren Sproles because they wanted a mascot.
Even Ertz isn't immune to Brent Celek stealing the tough yards up the seam that often generates big plays. And if Foles gets hurt, I'm actually confident in Mark Sanchez as a worthwhile substitute for this offense now that he's away from the clutches of Rex Ryan. But then the guesswork starts all over again with the Sanchez "reset button" for this offense and his preferences.
In other words, Philadelphia is one giant fantasy surprise. Good luck.
Pittsburgh: "If Antonio Brown Is Lost For The SEason . . . "
Then who becomes the fantasy force in the Steelers passing game? This is one that I don't believe Footballguys covered in it's What If series. However, Brown's 2013 campaign demonstrates how much the Steelers leaned on the receiver last year.
If Brown goes down, Lance Moore has the skills to work the middle and should gel with Roethlisberger. However, you wonder how Todd Haley can company have pigeon-holed these receivers. If they see Moore as only a short and intermediate threat then his upside will be limited.
I think Markus Wheaton has been a square peg forced into a round hole this preseason. He looked good when the Steelers gave him some routes to work the middle of the field and he could use his speed and agility after the catch to what Brown does best. However, I also saw games where Roethlisberger tried to force the ball to Wheaton on deep perimeter routes.
I have a minor fear that the Steelers brain trust has decided that the offense will limit the quadrants of the field where Roethlisberger will target Wheaton and thereby limit its offense. But if Brown gets hurt, I can see Wheaton being the most logical option to take over for Brown and the team moves Darrius Heyward-Bey and/or Martavis Bryant into that limited perimeter role. Heyward-Bey also earns some attention as a possible Brown replacement because I thought his best performances in the NFL have come from him working the middle and earning yards after the catch. He's just not as reliable as a route runner and pass catcher as he is an athlete.
The one player I'm not concerned about and beleive would benefit most is Heath Miller. Opposite defenses rarely devote significant attention to Miller and the Steelers have figured out ways to get Miller in optimal situations to succeed. He's also an excellent player in tight coverage and a better athlete than always described.
To leave fantasy football at the curb for a moment, if I were building an offense for just one season of football before the world explodes and the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, and Vernon Davis were off the board, I'd take Miller over the likes of Jordan Reed, Travis Kelce, Ertz, and Ladarius Green. Those guys are better athletes, but Miller is such a well-rounded player and hard to beat in the red zone.
If the Steelers have to lean on Miller he'll respond both in real footall and fantasy football.
Seattle: "If Russell Wilson Produces as an Elite Fantasy passer . . . "
Then tight end Luke Willson could be the fantasy surprise of his position. I already have the Seahawks quarterback's production higher than most (4194 yards passing, 400 yards rushing, and 30 total touchdowns), but that's with Percy Harvin as a 1000-yard option, Doug Baldwin earning close to 850 yards, and Jermaine Kearse and Paul Richardson Jr combining for 1200 yards.
As it stands, I have the Seahawks tight ends combining for 726 yards and 6 scores with Willson leading the way with 39 catches for 430 yards and 3 touchdowns. This is higher than most for Willson, but if you watch his use in the preseason with the first team then you can see the possibility of the tight end earning a little more than two catches per game.
The second-year tight end has been wide open on corner routes and crossing routes in this offense and the scheme likes to use the ground game to set up the tight end sneaking behind the linebackers. Willson is a terrific athlete with the field-stretching skill to get the job done here.
If Zach Miller gets hurt or Willson builds on his role as a frequent contributor we could see Willson account for a high percent of that 67-726-6 statline I have for the entire tight end corps.
San Francisco: "If Brandon Lloyd Becomes a factor . . . "
This one is for Footballguys writer Jason Wood who is constantly mystified by some of our staff's love for Lloyd. Here's my best explanation: Lloyd is a troubled genius of pass catching. I'll put his best receptions up against anyone who has ever played the position and if you're not some jaded beat writer who lacks the nuance to appreciate the aesthetic beauty and difficulty of individual plays removed from the overall career then you'd be forced to place Lloyd's best work among the pantheon of greatest receptions you've ever seen.
Because of Lloyd's incredible skill, I will never rule him out of my fantasy football contingencies until he is too old and long-retired. I'm not drafting Lloyd and I don't think I'm even holding him in anything but the deepest of dynasty leagues at the moment. However, the the 49ers have held onto the veteran receiver this year despite minimal opportunities to perform during the preseason.
The reason is the shakiness of this depth chart. Michael Crabtree may be two years removed from an Achilles tear, but it is a devastating injury. He may look good and remain healthy for the rest of his career, but the 49ers aren't dumb to think that they need depth. The only receiver with more leg injuries than Steve Johnson over the past few years is Hakeem Nicks. LIke Nicks, Johnson isn't seen as a primary option and that ever-bothersome groin muscle is like a tripwire.
The most durable veteran option is the venerable Anquan Boldin, who is what Nicks hopes to approximate on some level with the Colts. Beyond Boldin, you have the unproven Quinton Patton and mercurial Bruce Ellington. Neither are go-to guys. Boldin is a go-to short-range option, but without Crabtree or Johnson, the 49ers need a big-play threat that can force defenses to play Vernon Davis straight up.
That ace up San Francisco's sleeve is Lloyd. Note that Lloyd, like Boldin, Crabtree, and Johnson are all bad-ball receivers and 50/50 specialists.
The likelihood that Lloyd will be a factor in San Francisco seems remote -- especially if the plan isn't even to dress Lloyd for most of the games -- but with the age and potential for infirmity among the veterans of this corps, the 49ers don't want to risk being empty-handed during its championship window.
St. Louis: "If Benny Cunningham earns a significant share of the backfield looks with a healthy Zac STacy . . . "
Then it won't be due to Stacy playing poorly. The real reason will be Cunningham's health. What a lot of people didn't realize about Cunningham is that he tore his patellar tendon during the fifth game of his senior season at Middle Tennessee State.
The fact that Cunningham was able to compete for a roster spot seven months after the tear and eventually win the spot, much less earn playing time, is incredible. When I scouted Cunningham in 2012 I saw a powerful back with a mix of skills and style that reminded me some of Alfred Morris. You have to think that Cunningham wasn't close to 100 percent last year.
If I'm right about Cunningham needing another year to return to form then it's understandable why Cunningham has aroused the curiosity of the Rams coaching staff as a potential contributor alongside Stacy this year.
Tennessee: "IF Bishop Sankey Becomes a Fantasy Factor Beyond a Bye-week/Flex-play . . . "
Then he'll need to earn more then 1-3 yards when asked to hit small interior creases when the average NFL starter earns 3-4 on those plays. This is one of the reasons why I believe Sankey has not earned starter looks during the preseason. Against second and third-team defenses, Sankey is earning nice yardage on plays designed to go outside or the line opens a van-sized crease. However, Sankey fails to look as impressive on the tougher runs that Shonn Greene will at least gain 3-4 yards.
Sankey might be called upon as a starter by necessity if Greene gets hurt, but it might take the rookie a year to really begin to make the most of his athleticism.