Entering training camp, there’s plenty of unanswered questions that will impact rosters moving forward. In our Camp Questions series, our writers are looking at an issue with dynasty impact for each team.
Question: Are there any receivers in Arizona behind Brown and Fitzgerald worth dynasty stock?
It seems like yesterday the Cardinals wide receiver group was considered one of the best in the league. Larry Fitzgerald will go into the Hall of Fame as his generation’s best receiver, while Michael Floyd possessed all the physical tools and appeared on the trajectory to become the 1A opposite Fitzgerald. Even John Brown was emerging as one of the league’s best young pass catchers with 1,700 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first two seasons.
Much changed in 2016. Father Time took yet another year from Fitzgerald despite another 1,000-yard season. Floyd was released from the organization after a DUI; one in which the released video showed him more intoxicated than Joe Namath on Monday Night Football. Brown not only battled hamstring injuries but also suffered from the sickle cell trait that has sidelined several players in recent years.
One bright spot from last season was sophomore J.J. Nelson, who went for 568 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Entering year three, he could be in for a bigger role. The Cardinals drafted metrics darling Chad Williams in the third round, better known at this point for the offseason hype than his college career. With Fitzgerald turning 34 years old before the start of the regular season, and Brown’s health a question mark, the winner of the training camp battle between Nelson, Williams, and Jaron Brown may see some fantasy viability this year. If it’s either Nelson or Williams, the opportunity and subsequent production could raise their dynasty stock significantly.
Los Angeles Rams
Question: Will we get clarity among the receivers in Los Angeles?
Change has finally come to the Rams: the youngest coach in NFL history, Sean McVay, was brought in to replace the old guard in Jeff Fisher. With it being a decade since the Rams have fielded a top twenty offense, there’s hope McVay as the former Washington Redskins offensive coordinator could bring respectability to the franchise. Not since 2007 had a Rams receiver gone 1,000 yards until Kenny Britt barely eclipsed the feat with 1,002 in 2016. With Britt gone via free agency, is there a lead receiver for 2016 first overall pick Jared Goff?
The Rams signed Tavon Austin to a four year, $42 million extension in 2016, but Austin has never gone over 1,000 total scrimmage yards in a season (which includes his rushing totals). In 2016, he had his career high in receiving yards with 509. A new coaching staff should find creative ways to get Austin involved, but they likely won’t turn him into a player worthy of a top ten NFL draft pick or a $42 million extension. Former Buffalo Bill Robert Woods, was signed in free agency earlier this offseason, but similar to Austin has never accumulated 700 receiving yards in a single season. 2017 will be his first opportunity to be the lead wide receiver target going into training camp after being behind Sammy Watkins most of his career.
With this coaching staff’s first draft, they spent a third round pick on Cooper Kupp and a fourth rounder on Josh Reynolds. Kupp enters the league as a polished possession receiver and quarterback security blanket but faces a significant jump in competition after absurd levels of production at Eastern Washington, while Reynolds profiles as a vertical threat on a team that’s never taken advantage of Austin’s straight line speed. Combine these youngsters with former 2016 draft picks in Pharoh Cooper and Michael Thomas, and you have a position group filled with players who can rise to the top of the depth chart or be released by the most wide receiver needy team in the NFL. While Kupp and Reynolds are likely to make the team based on draft capital alone, the Rams are deep in notable wide receiver names but short on production. Any movement in training camp or preseason to secure a starting job – especially from players evaluated and acquired by the current coaching regime – would be both a boon to their dynasty stock and a sign of good things to come.
San Francisco 49ers
Question: Who is the running back to own on the roster?
You don’t need to know the players listed on the running back depth chart in a Kyle Shanahan offense to get excited, leading to a reason for long-term optimism in San Francisco: his running backs produce when given the opportunity. I’ve been looking to sell Carlos Hyde all offseason as the trade rumors have swirled alongside updates on his poor fit in the Shanahan offense. At this point, however, the team would stand to save less than a million dollars from a release, insignificant to a team with almost $67 million in cap space. There would be no logical reason to cut him, especially after his over 1,100 all purpose yards in only 13 games in 2016. Looking at this from a dynasty angle, though, the rumors would suggest his departure in 2018 free agency.
The listed backup in San Francisco, Tim Hightower, is probably on his last legs in the NFL, leaving the competition to be the future starter between fourth round pick Joe Williams and undrafted free agent Matt Breida. Williams, a player Shanahan seems ecstatic about after convincing John Lynch to select a player who was already “off his big board,” would be the logical choice for long-term success. Breida, however, is the superior athlete; he crushed his pro day with a 4.39 40-yard dash, a 42” vertical jump, and an amazing 11’2” broad jump. Those are tools which could translate to an abundance of fantasy points if the opportunity presents itself. With Hyde’s impending free agency and fragility, the player able to secure the backup role in the San Francisco offense through training camp is a fine buy, and owners should watch to see who secures the position in hopes of both current and future success. If neither rookie succeeds in training camp, this could be a boon for Hyde owners and could suggest a return to San Francisco in 2018 for Hyde, though more likely means the running back of the future is not on the roster.
Question: Is there a fantasy relevant wide receiver on the roster besides Doug Baldwin?
Despite starting 45 games over the last three years, the Seahawks number two receiver, Jermaine Kearse, has not been fantasy relevant. The top two pass catchers in Seattle, Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham, are among the best at their position, but the team is clearly looking for a third piece in the passing game.
Former second round pick Paul Richardson – the player drafted over Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, Donte Moncrief, John Brown, and Martavis Bryant – showed up big in the playoffs last season with 131 total yards and an acrobatic circus touchdown catch. Due in large part to injuries, however, Richardson’s 599 regular receiving yards over the course of three seasons leaves plenty to be desired. 2015 third round pick Tyler Lockett has also battled injuries in his short career, breaking his fibula and tibia in Week 16 of a 2016 season in which he had already disappointed his fantasy owners. After being drafted in the top three rounds in July 2016 ADP, Lockett is now a dynasty afterthought going in the late tenth. If you still believe in Lockett and aren’t afraid of his gruesome injury, he’s a bargain there.
To add to their cache of second-day receivers, the Seahawks selected Amara Darboh in the third round of the 2017 draft. Darboh is an above average athlete, but old for a prospect: he’ll be halfway to 24 by the time the preseason starts. Currently undrafted in the DLF July ADP, Darboh’s physical tools could make him a bargain for dynasty rosters, as his physical tools make are unique among the Seattle receivers. Any of these three could make an impact as a starter and jump back onto the dynasty radar if they can surpass Kearse, and training camp is when they’ll get their chance to make that case. Lockett, Kearse, and Richardson have all been fantasy relevant in spurts in their careers, and if any of these players can elevate himself above the others as the clear third option, he’ll be a bargain at his current price.