Several players were named starters for their respective teams this week; does that change their fantasy outlook at all? How does Le'Veon Bell's injury affect his place on the draft board? What's up with the Broncos' running back situation? Our fantasy experts Michael Beller and Eric Mack discuss in this week's fantasy roundtable.
1. Michael Vick and Brandon Weeden were named the starters for their respective teams. How do you view each of them heading into the season?
Beller: Vick is slowly but surely becoming everyone's favorite sleeper quarterback. That could eventually get baked into his draft-day price, but it hasn't happened yet. Of course, all it takes is one guy in your league to long for the days of 2009, and all of a sudden Vick isn't the steal you thought he could be. But I still see him as a potential steal -- nothing more, nothing less. The Eagles may have a high-powered offense, but the chance they flop is still real. Vick will have to run to realize his starter value, and that necessarily increases his injury risk. It would be a mistake to bet on him to play all 16 games, which also relegates him to high-ceiling backup during draft season.
It's not really a surprise that Rob Chudzinski named Weeden the starter, but the fact of the matter is that there isn't any fantasy value here. Other than Trent Richardson, the Browns are devoid of excitement on offense. The only way I could see drafting him is as a third QB in a two-QB league.
Mack: Agreed on both accounts here. You cannot draft Vick as anything more than a backup fantasy option -- albeit one with intriguing upside. That Chip Kelly up-tempo attack stands to be pretty good, and that Eagles defense will likely force a lot of shootouts. Both bode well for Vick's production, but it's tough for owners to look past the injury risk or Foles and Matt Barkley lurking on the sidelines. Both are in position to become the quarterback of the future, and if the Eagles fall out of the playoff race, the organization may want to get a jump-start on that young passer.
Weeden can emerge later in the year once Josh Gordon and Greg Little are both producing on the field, but he shouldn't be drafted outside of two-quarterback leagues, like Beller mentioned.
2. Speaking of freshly named starters, Jeff Fisher anointed Daryl Richardson the Rams' starting running back. Where does he slot on your running-back board, and what will his output be this season?
Beller: I think most of us expected this, but the fact that this was supposedly an open competition as recently as two weeks ago shows how highly Fisher and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer think of Richardson. The second-year back has great burst and home-run ability, making him the sort cheap back with the upside to be an RB2. Of course, at the start of the season, he shouldn't be any higher than third on a fantasy depth chart. Personally, I'd feel a little shaky with him as my third running back, but great with him as my fourth. I worry that he'll be limited by the Rams offense, and despite his winning the job, Zac Stacy and Isaiah Pead both figure to retain roles in the offense.
Mack: He's still outside of the top 30 running backs to target, so don't count on him as a starter. He has sleeper potential, but Steven Jackson was never a touchdown threat with the Rams, and Stacy still could steal the goal-line carries in the Rams' rotation. Pead is the biggest loser in this situation; the once-potential breakout may no longer have a part in the Rams' future as a feature back. He couldn't beat out a seventh-rounder in back-to-back training camps.
3. Le'Veon Bell limped out of Monday night's game against the Redskins, and news broke Wednesday that he has a Lisfranc injury. He's seeking a second opinion, but he's expected to be out at least six weeks. Is that ... is that Jonathan Dwyer's music?
Beller: I was already selling Bell before his foot injury, at least at his average draft position. This just means I'll be staying away from him no matter what on draft day. We've seen Lisfranc injuries derail plenty of seasons in the past, so much so that sports fans actually know what a Lisfranc injury is.
On the other hand, Dwyer could be a nice bargain on draft day. He had 14 carries for 68 yards in Bell's stead against the Redskins, and while we shouldn't put too much stock into preseason stats, he ran with a purpose on Monday. He has a career average of 4.3 yards per carry on 181 totes, and will be slotted in as the starter with Bell out. Isaac Redman is worth a shot in deeper leagues.
Mack: I was wary of this all along. Bell wasn't going to be an easy sell for the Steelers over veterans Dwyer and Redman. He did earn that job quickly, but he proved incapable of staying healthy through training camp. It's not a good sign for handling the NFL grind once he is active again. Oh, and a Lisfranc injury to a running back is like Dr. James Andrews to a pitcher in baseball -- bad news.
4. Neither Montee Ball nor Ronnie Hillman has impressed in the preseason. What should fantasy owners make of the situation in Denver? Is Ball the RB3 and potential RB2 many thought he was at the start of training camp? Might Knowshon Moreno be worth a late-round flier?
Beller: I admit I've been a Ball apologist for a while now. I thought he was the best back in the draft last year, and felt he'd succeed immediately if he landed in the right city. Denver definitely appeared to be a perfect fit back in April and, despite not exactly lighting the league on fire this preseason, I still think it's the perfect fit for his talents. He'll need to improve his pass protection if he wants to play in a Peyton Manning offense, but there isn't a question that he can run the ball effectively for the Broncos. His best traits as a runner are his patience and explosiveness. He waits for his blocks to set up, and once they provide him with the daylight necessary, he doesn't dance in the hole looking for the highlight play. He hits the hole aggressively when he sees it, making him an ideal runner for the types of checks that Manning uses when he gets the defense thinking pass. It may take longer than we expected for the cream to rise, but Ball will prove himself Denver's best option in the backfield and be a fantasy mainstay this season. Moreno is worth a very late pick, simply because Starting Denver RB is a valuable position, no matter who fills it. If Ball and Hillman both get injured, Moreno could find himself as a surprise contributor, much like he was last year after Willis McGahee went down.
Mack: Until Hillman takes hold of the job, assume Ball will rise to the occasion. The Broncos drafted him for a reason -- Ball is a touchdown machine from college and will be the goal-line back for a potent Denver offense no matter who starts. He is going to be the Broncos back to have in drafts, since he can still erupt for 1,000 yards and 10-plus touchdowns. Hillman is the change of pace and Knowshon Moreno is the veteran insurance policy -- just as the Broncos drew it up right after draft day.
5. There is some surprising uncertainty at tight end, making it increasingly likely that the best value comes in waiting to address the position. Give the readers a tight end currently outside the industry's top 12 who could end up being a huge steal on draft day.
Beller: Finally getting a real shot to contribute as a pass catcher last year, Brandon Myers hauled in 79 passes for 806 yards and four touchdowns. And that was on the Raiders. He upgraded to Eli Manning and the Giants in the offseason. Manning has always relied on his tight ends, making good use of Jeremy Shockey, Kevin Boss, Jake Ballard and Martellus Bennett over the years. Myers won't cost you much of anything on draft day, but given the other weapons on this Giants offense, he could find himself a huge part of the passing game, especially in the red zone. I think he'll end the year as a top-10 guy at the position.
Mack: Myers won't reel in as many passes, but he can break the seam like Jake Ballard did a couple of years ago. He is a solid sleeper. Everyone is falling in love with Jordan Cameron and Zach Sudfeld right now, but I think too many people are sleeping on contract-year player Brandon Pettigrew, who's a part of the most pass-happy offense in the NFL. Another option is future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates in the latter rounds, or Coby Fleener, who can still emerge out of the depths of the position, too. There are so many candidates for the top 10 among tight ends, if you don't get Jimmy Graham, make it the last position you pick before your defense/special teams and kicker.