With the 2014 NFL regular season upon, it is time to be open and receptive to the new reality. The consensus rankings and thoughts of the previous eight months of the offseason are about to be reshuffled like a game of 52-card pickup. Early-season transactions by a dynasty owner, through the waiver wire or via trade, can have lasting effects far beyond the current season. Giving up on an underperforming prospect for a low-level flavor of the week can look genius or short-sided months later.
Here is a quick primer of situations to monitor closely:
Backfields in Motion
The Dolphins backfield could be a mess, but the new offense is Lamar Miller’s best chance to rise close to the expectations dynasty owners had leading up to the 2013 season. After flopping, along with the entire Dolphins offense, Miller is now around ADP 100. How much does Knowshon Moreno have left? Will the Dolphins offensive line be improved? Miller’s price tag this summer appeared closer to his floor than ceiling going forward.
Despite the doghouse label and continued Belicheck mind games, the Patriots depth chart remains Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen’s show. The power back role is Ridley’s and there is no ‘LeGarrette Blount’ type to be a serious threat. James White looks ordinary at best and Brandon Bolden is closer to the Shane Vereen role than anything Ridley offers the offense. Double-digit touchdowns are still in play for Ridley despite the obvious week-to-week oscillations in potential usage.
Bernard Pierce looks like a good sell candidate in the opening weeks of the season. Ray Rice will be serving out his suspension, but looks in good form to rebound from a horrific 2013 season. Pierce profiles as a two-down option and, if Rice returns to prominence, when will his ultimate opportunity come? Pierce is under contract through 2015 and even that point projects to a poor man’s version of Ben Tate in the free agent market.
Isaiah Crowell made the Browns roster as most were expecting prior to the questionable opportunity to play in the preseason. Terrance West’s play has been up-and-down. Ben Tate is being touted as a high-volume back. All that adds up to Crowell being in the mix as a potential difference-maker later in the season.
Bishop Sankey: Listed as third on the depth chart throughout the preseason, but played well. Shonn Greene is a replacement-level talent and Dexter McCluster would be a surprise outside of a role player. Since, the Titans brass has moved Sankey up to second on the depth chart, which is not news as no other back on the depth chart offers three-down ability other than Greene and Sankey. While he may be a slow-starter, Sankey presents a small discount from the purchase price this summer, but remains in line to have a fantasy-worthy role as the season progresses.
Ronnie Hillman, C.J. Anderson, and even Juwan Thompson are viable stashes in case Montee Ball is not the rock-solid RB1 as he is currently valued. Hillman and Anderson should be rostered in all but the most-shallow of leagues. Thompson requires closer to 30 roster spots for consideration.
Considering Ryan Mathews does not see a significant share of goal line or third down work, 2013 was a best-case scenario in many ways. Will he be able to string together some health again? Donald Brown is more of a threat to early-down carries than anyone on the Chargers roster last season and Danny Woodhead has his role established. Owners banking on Mathews as a weekly starter need to have a contingency plan in place.
Andre Williams takes a hit with the legitimate possibility that Peyton Hillis is the goal line or secondary option to Rashad Jennings out of the gate in the Giants backfield. The passing game is not an option for Williams, so a high-volume of goal line chances are paramount to his ultimate fantasy success.
Devonta Freeman played behind Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith all preseason, plus the pair of veterans performed well. Steven Jackson is the starter, but the next man up in case of injury is likely a muddy committee more than Freeman as the lead option.
The injury to Charles Sims was a game-changer for Doug Martin. With Sims in the mix, Martin has serious competition for passing game production. Without Sims for at least three months, Martin reverts to high-RB2 or better status outside of a rehash of the early season 2013 look to the Tampa Bay offense.
Is Jonathan Stewart back? One thing is for sure – he possesses more upside than DeAngelo Williams in the Carolina backfield. The downward trend of Cam Newton’s goal line volume since his rookie season combined with his recent injuries presents more potential running back value. Stewart is a tough drop, even in 20-22 man rosters as the ‘what if’ allure is still there with the uber-talent.
Benny Cunningham has been a hot name of late and should be rostered even in leagues of 20-24 players on the chance that Zac Stacy falters early in the season. Tre Mason, once a hot riser in rookie drafts months ago is off the radar at least until his pass protection rises to the level of his obvious running skills.
Robert Turbin is being largely ignored in dynasty leagues, despite his strong prospect profile entering the league and being above Christine Michael on the depth every step of the way. Like the Broncos backfield, there is value to be had in Seattle if the starter is injured. Turbin is a throw-in for dynasty trades, or a third-round rookie pick at best, and a name that can go from ignored to hottest name out there in a matter of minutes.