Last year, Michael Floyd was lauded with offseason praise from everyone inside and outside the Cardinals. This year, it’s bulked up second-year WR John Brown that’s receiving all the OTA praise. The difference is he’s available in the 10th or 11th round of fantasy drafts, not the 4th where Floyd was going. The playmaking Brown will be a “favorite flier” if his ADP stays down. … The Cardinals knew they weren’t getting a power back when they took David Johnson. They wanted Andre Ellington 2.0, a sign they have no desire whatsoever to pound between the tackles. … That brings us to Carson Palmer, whose rapid return from ACL surgery had him participating in 11-on-11 at minicamp. The Cards are going to be a pass-centric spread team, one that is installing more no-huddle looks with their two “space” running backs and three plus wideouts. I prefer Colin Kaepernick and Sam Bradford as QB2s, but am fine settling for Palmer. His pace stats last year were impressive. … Logan Thomas’ debacle of an offseason means he can be cut in Dynasty.
Devonta Freeman opened minicamp getting the first-team reps, but I think that’s more incumbent deference that something to latch on to. The real competition will go down in training camp. It is worth noting that the Falcons keep talking up Freeman’s pass-game ability – he’s the heavy favorite for third-down and two-minute work. … Rookie Tevin Coleman enters training camp slightly behind Freeman, but he’s going to make this a committee. I don’t buy the “not a fit for the scheme” talk. Kyle Shanahan is sharp and a talent maximizer – he doesn’t make the Coleman pick if he doesn’t think it can work. Coleman is a mid-round RB upside pick as the eventual 1A to Freeman’s 1B.
Julio Jones is healthy, in a contract year and playing the X for Shanny. Look out. … Roddy White took some veteran days off during the spring and he’s not a player I’ll be investing in this year. Roddy admitted the offense will be more balanced, his body has shown serious signs of breaking down the last two years, he can’t threaten defenses at age 33 and this is a scheme that funnels targets to the X. … A healthy Leonard Hankerson made an impression on Shanahan during their time together in Washington and has carried that down to Atlanta. He’s in the mix for No. 3 duties. … Jacob Tamme is leading the tight end battle, ahead of oft-injured Tony Moeaki and lumbering blocker Levine Toilolo. It’s something for TE streamers to keep an eye on. Tamme has two 50-catch seasons on his resume – albeit with Peyton Manning.
GM Dave Gettleman confirmed the Panthers won’t put bubble wrap around Cam Newton after giving him a $118 million contract. He ran 9.5 times per game over the final six games of last year (including playoffs), willing the team to a 4-2 record. Expect 100-120 carries again this year for Cam. … Jerricho Cotchery fell off the radar after the Panthers added Devin Funchess and Ted Ginn. He slipped even further back once Corey Brown (formerly Philly Brown) emerged as the star of Panthers OTAs. … I’m not worried about Kelvin Benjamin being “overweight” in mid-June. He’ll be fine physically. However, I would be worried about his target volume decreasing sharply.
Jonathan Stewart is enjoying a healthy offseason and DeAngelo Williams is gone, conjuring images that made JStew one of the NFL’s rising stud backs in 2008 and 2009. Coach Ron Rivera said Stewart’s carry count will come down to how he’s playing. “If you are running the ball well, obviously you are going to feed him.” When healthy, Stewart has run at an elite level during much of his career. … One concern for both Cam and Stewart is the Panthers’ strange confidence in Michael Oher at left tackle. He could be worse than Byron Bell.
New Bears coach John Fox is notorious for failing to trust rookies. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that White ran behind Alshon Jeffery, Marquess Wilson and Eddie Royal for much of OTAs. This is also an offense that will run more now that Marc Trestman is gone, and one that also has Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte as quality receiving threats. I’m not on White in Year 1 even though I think he’ll easily beat out Wilson in camp. … Jitterbug slot man Royal turned heads during workouts, getting singled out by both media and coaches for playing well and understanding the scheme. He previously played one season with Jay Cutler (2008, DEN) and caught 91 passes. … Martellus Bennett’s contract dispute was predictably much ado about nothing. I was happy to get him at 8.10 in this MFL draft.
After dealing with serious back issues over the past few years, Tony Romo participated fully in the offseason program for the first time since 2012. He’s healthy and likely to see a spike in pass attempts this year as the run game regresses. … Franchise tagged Dez Bryant claims he’s going to play hardball with a holdout. If he skips games and leaves $12.82 million on the table, I’ll eat this article. … Darren McFadden fought a hamstring issue and Ryan Williams had knee problems (again). That left Joseph Randle to handle most of the first-team reps and get all of the hype. I would be surprised if Randle didn’t lead this committee, ceding some change-of-pace work to McFadden and some pass-down work to Lance Dunbar. Former Rotoworld Football bossman Gregg Rosenthal gave a good glass half full take on Randle here. … Terrance Williams was lighting up the spring as the de facto No. 1 wideout (Dez didn’t participate, Devin Street is his direct backup). Williams should see far more than the 64 targets he saw a year ago as the Cowboys are forced to increase pass-game volume.
Joique Bell (Achilles’, knee) sat out the entire offseason program. The Lions didn’t mess around with any rookie hazing, giving SPARQ freak Ameer Abdullah the first-team reps right away. As an added bonus, he performed better as a receiver than the coaches expected. The all-purpose Abdullah is a serious threat for a heavy workload early on, even once Joique gets back on the field. … Zach Zenner did not have an impressive spring as he battles George Winn for a roster spot behind Bell, Abdullah and Theo Riddick. For now, it sounds like the Lions could try to slide Zenner onto the practice squad. Condolences, #DraftTwitter. … As for Riddick, there’s talk he could play most of his snaps in the slot. It’s not unreasonable as he could be a better No. 3 receiver than Corey Fuller. Still, the selection of Abdullah really hurt Riddick as he barely played last year when both Joique and Reggie Bush were healthy.
Calvin Johnson says he’s back to 100 percent after knee and ankle issues have bothered him over the last couple years. He’s also in Year 2 of the Joe Lombardi scheme. … Drops remained an issue for Eric Ebron, who continues to look like more hype than substance.
Davante Adams was the unquestioned star of the offseason program. He got called the MVP by coach Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers said he’s going to be a “star – for sure.” Adams is blocked by the presence of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, but the Packers run enough three-wide sets for there to be some boom weeks. If either of the starters goes down, Adams would erupt. … Rodgers also talked up Andrew Quarless, which should prevent anyone from wasting a pick on Richard Rogers. … Jordy Nelson’s hip appears perfectly fine. I’m operating as if he remains in his prime at age 30. … Worth noting that athletic monster Jeff Janis got some first-team reps while Jordy rehabbed. He’ll head to camp as the No. 4 wideout. … Even Randall Cobb thinks his numbers will regress off last season’s contract-campaign eruption, when he scored 12 touchdowns at 5-foot-10.
The Vikings’ first-team three-wide set featured Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson and Jarius Wright. … Johnson bulked up to 225 pounds and OC Norv Turner was relentless with praise. “He’s far and away our best receiver.” … I don’t give up on freak talents like Cordarrelle Patterson, but I won’t be taking him in redraft. The Vikings have no confidence he can get open even though they publicly proclaim otherwise. … Jerick McKinnon is locked in as Adrian Peterson’s direct backup. That won’t be a very voluminous role – the Vikings are going to ride Peterson into the ground as they prepare to part ways soon. The offensive staff reportedly sees APete as a “350-carry centerpiece.” … If Kyle Rudolph could ever sustain health, he’ll be a back-end TE1. For now, he’s healthy. NEW ORLEANS
The Josh Hill hype train took a big hit during OTAs and minicamp. He didn’t do anything wrong, but coach Sean Payton said his playing time will depend on how many two-TE sets the team runs. Meanwhile, Ben Watson “might have led the Saints in catches” during the workouts that were open to the public and the team put an unsuccessful waiver claim in on Tim Wright. I’ll take Hill in the 12th round or so, but any earlier doesn’t build in the risk. Beat writers are very skeptical about a breakout. … As for hype going the other way, C.J. Spiller was buzzing in a big way. Beat writers are issuing fantasy alerts and speculating he’ll get more touches than feature back Mark Ingram. Payton said he will prioritize scheming the ball to Spiller in space. Running back receptions under Payton include Reggie Bush 88, 73. Darren Sproles 86, 75, 71. Pierre Thomas 77.
Marques Colston (old) didn’t participate in OTAs or minicamp. There’s a ton of opportunity here, but there’s reason to question if Colston has anything left in the tank. … Nick Toon will head to camp with his nose in front for the No. 3 job, ahead of Brandon Coleman and Seantavius Jones. I took Toon at 18.10 as a flier in that MFL draft in the hopes he can do Kenny Stills type things. … Drew Brees’ ADP has been beaten down to the point where I’m intrigued. Just because the Saints want to run the ball, play defense and reduce the amount of points needed to win doesn’t mean they’ll be able to.
NEW YORK GIANTS
The Giants claim Eli Manning’s arm strength is improved even as he heads into his age-34 season. I’m not buying that, but I do buy a big year from Eli in the second year of the McAdoo scheme with weapons everywhere. … Manning’s newest weapon is Shane Vereen, who reportedly caught “pass after pass” at spring work and found his way “onto the field constantly.” It looks like Vereen will be more than just a third-down back and could reach the 9.9 touches per game he averaged in New England over the last two years. Rashad Jennings will still be the featured back when healthy. … One of the big surprises was the Giants saying they don’t expect to place Victor Cruz (patellar tear) on active/PUP to start camp. That would limit their options as he then couldn’t be placed on reserve/PUP to start the season – a move that would cost him the first six weeks. I’m still very skeptical about Cruz’s health has he comes off one of the most serious injuries an athlete can have. I’d rather take a post-hype shot on Rueben Randle. … Madden coverboy Odell Beckham missed a lot of work due to a hamstring injury – sound familiar? This one is far less serious than last year’s however, and is on the other side.
Sam Bradford (ACL) was not cleared for 11-on-11 work. Reports conflicted about the status of his knee, but I suspect the training staff is just taking it easy on an oft-injured player. The Eagles gave up a second-round pick and their starting quarterback (Nick Foles) for the right to pay Bradford $13M – he’s their guy. … Jordan Matthews took some reps outside, but continued to focus on his “big slot” role. A mismatch-creator no matter where he lines up, Matthews is going to lead this team is all receiving categories. … On the outside, Riley Cooper is getting pushed by Josh Huff for the job opposite first-round rookie Nelson Agholor. Only problem is Huff struggled with drops in the spring. … Meanwhile, the Zach Ertz hype train is off and running again. But I’m not sure a lot has changed since last year, when Ertz only played on 50.3 percent of the snaps because he’s an inferior blocker to Brent Celek. We already knew that if he’s unleashed, the sky is the limit.
Last year, the talent gap between LeSean McCoy and the rest of the Eagles backs was massive. So McCoy got 75.1 percent of the running back carries even though Chip Kelly didn’t even like Shady. Chip has been clear this offseason he wants the workload spread out a bit more this year with highly talented Ryan Mathews behind DeMarco Murray. Early beat writer projections suggested 17 carries per game for DeMarco, nine for Mathews and two for Darren Sproles.
Carlos Hyde missed a lot of the offseason program with a relatively minor leg issue. That left Reggie Bush to take the first running rep during drills and he reportedly looked strong. Hyde still projects as the early-down starter come Week 1, but his workload will be nibbled into by Bush, rookie Mike Davis and a healthy Kendall Hunter. And if the 49ers end up trailing a lot this season as they very well could, Bush will be logging the majority of snaps as the passing back. … Vernon Davis skipped the offseason program last year and proceeded to faceplant. He’s participating this year and allegedly looks good, but I’d rather have Zach Ertz or Kyle Rudolph as a later-round TE. … DeAndre Smelter (ACL) is expected to open the season on the NFI list. His rookie year will likely be a redshirt year.
UDFA RB Thomas Rawls made a good impression in the spring, getting singled out as a “real bright spot” by Pete Carroll. It’s notable in deep Dynasty as Marshawn Lynch enters his age-29 season and Robert Turbin is ticketed for 2016 free agency. … We heard the annual buzz from Seattle that they’re expecting big things from Christine Michael this year. The same thing was said last year, when Michael finished with 35 touches on 74 snaps and Turbin had 90 touches on 302 snaps. … The Seahawks are asking Jimmy Graham to block more. It’s a reminder he’s in a different scheme now, and playing a different role. I prefer Travis Kelce in the fifth round over Graham in the second. … It still boggles my mind that people think Seattle won’t give Russell Wilson a contract that rivals what Andrew Luck will eventually get. This dearth of elite quarterbacks on this planet is striking. Ask the Bills, Jets, Bengals, Browns, Texans, Jaguars, Titans, Chiefs, Raiders, Eagles, Redskins, Bears, 49ers or Rams how much they’d pay for Wilson. Any contract “news” is in one ear and out the other.
Todd Gurley (ACL) did not practice at all in the spring and his status for training camp is completely up in the air. Considering Tre Mason’s presence, the Rams’ brutal offensive line and a rugged division, I’ll have zero Gurley this year. … Speaking of Mason, he’s slimmed down to between 195 and 200 pounds after weighing 207 at his 2014 Combine. We love when backs shed weight and Mason makes for a nice early-season option for owners who take suspended Le’Veon Bell. … Brian Quick (shoulder surgery) only ran routes against air during the spring, but is tentatively expected to be a full go at some point during training camp. If healthy, he’ll lead the team in targets.
Doug Martin was one of the biggest risers during the spring. He went from the trade block and someone battling with Charles Sims to a guy that now appears entrenched as a feature back. He reportedly had the best offseason of his career, soaking up the first-team reps. Martin is currently available in the eighth round of fantasy drafts. … Sims averaged 2.8 YPC as a rookie, forcing just six missed tackles on 66 rushes and getting a pathetic 1.36 yards after contact per attempt. He was drafted to play a passing back role and it looks like that’s where he’ll stay. … Like so many receivers before him, Vincent Jackson is shifting into a Z and slot role as he enters his age-32 season. That leaves beast Mike Evans in the X role, the one Julio Jones ate in under new Bucs OC Dirk Koetter. I’m happy to scoop Evans in the third round. … Jameis Winston has impressed since he was drafted, making “huge strides” on the field and getting the playbook down quickly. Armed with a soft schedule and a leaky defense that will provoke shootouts, Winston is firmly on the QB2 radar right away. … The Tim Wright addition isn’t the best news for Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ stock. They play different positions, but Wright has proven to be a real red-zone option.
The Redskins did not open up their quarterback position to competition. They’re going with Robert Griffin III as their starter, at least to open the season. He’ll be on a very short leash though, as his contract states his $16.1M 2016 contract is only guaranteed if he’s hurt. RG3 is even more likely to get benched this year than last. … Colt McCoy and Kirk Cousins are staging a backup battle that will last into training camp. … Rookie Matt Jones will be the Roy Helu replacement, operating on third downs, no-huddle sets and possibly even stealing some full series from Alfred Morris. Losing any early-down work is a major concern for Alf because he’s already a zero in the pass game. … While Jordan Reed (knee procedure) was sidelined once again, Niles Paul looked like a “different player” during OTAs. This is a guy the Redskins gave a $6M deal to in free agency – they like him and he’ll enter camp ahead of Reed. Sneaky TE2 option. … Pierre Garcon will play more Z this year, allowing Griffin to hit him with the screens and hitches he’s so effective in. He won’t ever catch 113 balls again, but expect a little bump on the 68 he got last year.
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