From Austin to Zac: Everything you need to know about NFL offseason
Keeping up with the NFL during the offseason can be tougher than keeping up with the Kardashians, so to help you out, we assembled a comprehensive, alphabetical news primer about everything that happened in the NFL offseason.
Austin, Miles -- He’s one of the players that Cleveland immediately added to its receiving corps to try to replace Josh Gordon, who was already looking down the barrel of a season-long suspension when he was arrested for a DWI this summer. However using Austin, along with Nate Burleson, to replace Gordon is like using a squirt gun to put out a fire.
Browns offense -- Which will look completely different than it did last season. Not only is Gordon not going to be back, but also Ben Tate will be taking over at halfback, with rookie Terrance West behind him. The quarterback situation remains a mystery with Brian Hoyer (knee) as the tentative starter and rookie Johnny Manziel working as the savior in waiting. There actually is fantasy talent to be had on new head coach Mike Pettine’s team, but owners might not realize it until midseason.
Chicago Bears -- The team of which Lovie Smith is no longer in charge. Smith heads back to Tampa Bay, where he served as a linebackers coach for many years under Tony Dungy. Lovie is now the head coach, and he brought along Josh McCown, the Bears’ old backup quarterback and the Bucs’ new starter. He’ll have twin towers to throw to in Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans, just like he had last season with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. The offense is expected to be a quicker tempo than Tampa Bay has had before, but outside of Jackson and Martin, most of the players will serve best as bye-week plays during good matchups.
Extra-Long PATs -- This one doesn’t necessarily affect fantasy play this year, but it's still news. In the first two NFL preseason weeks, extra points will be kicked from the 20-yard line, rather than the two-yard line.
Finley, Jermichael -- The long-time Packers tight end is still recovering from a gruesome neck injury, but he’s still hopeful of signing on with a team in the coming weeks – possibly the Packers again. He's definitely an intriguing spot from a fantasy perspective, but he’ll be more of an in-season add if he does sign and prove to be healthy.
Gonzalez, Tony -- The 10-time All-Pro retired as one of the greatest fantasy players ever at his position. He holds the record for touchdown (111) and total receiving yards (15,127) by a tight end. Levine Toilolo takes over in his place in Atlanta.
Injured players returning -- Randall Cobb had a broken leg in 2013, but should vie to lead the Packers in targets again. Arian Foster is the lone star in the Texans’ backfield after having back surgery. Speaking of which, Tony Romo is coming off his second back surgery in as many years. And Cam Newton should be fine after ankle surgery, but it certainly merits a close watch.
Jets new offense -- Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg tossed back four cards in the NFL five-card draw tournament, and they got back Michael Vick, Chris Johnson, Eric Decker and Jace Amaro. With four new pieces to the Jets offensive puzzle, there’s no doubt things should look differently in East Rutherford. It’s just unclear how far they can come under sophomore quarterback Geno Smith.
Knee injuries -- Every season there are a handful of players coming back from torn ACLs or some other form of damage to their knees. Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles spoiled us a couple years ago with their outrageously quick recoveries, so don’t jump the gun too quickly on players like Joique Bell, Rob Gronkowski and Reggie Wayne.
Looking good on defense in New England -- The Patriots lost Aqib Talib, but they gained Darrelle Revis, who will face his former Jets team twice each season. New England will also get DT Vince Wilfork back, and suddenly last year’s mediocre fantasy defense could be one of the best in 2014.
Manning to Emmanuel Sanders -- The free-agent addition out of Pittsburgh is ecstatic to go from stud quarterback to another, and even if he serves as the third wide receiver in Denver, he has enough fantasy value in this offense to be a sixth- or seventh-round fantasy pick.
Offensive coordinator movement -- It’s always good to keep track of which teams have new offensive coordinators, which could impact their fantasy players greatly -- in a good or bad way. The Dolphins now have Bill Lazor calling the plays, Kyle Shanahan will work in Cleveland and Bill O’Brien will be the HC/OC for Houston. Frank Reich replaces Ken Whisenhunt in San Diego, who is now the head coach in Tennessee, where Jason Michael will call the plays. There was plenty of churn in the NFC East, as the Cowboys hired Scott Linehan, the Giants signed Ben McAdoo and Washington will go with Sean McVay. Detroit now has Joe Lombardi under the headset and the Bucs will go with Jeff Tedford. Former head coaches with new coordinator gigs include Hue Jackson with the Bengals and Gary Kubiak with the Ravens. Finally, Norv Turner might be the most exciting OC signing, as the Vikings have a few weapons he can unleash.
Patterson, Cordarrelle -- No player has seen a rise in fantasy value from the end of last season to the beginning of this season as the second-year star out of Tennessee. He’s a raw playmaker, but Turner is expected to highlight him in the passing game a lot. Unfortunately, by the time you read this, he’s no longer a sleeper, and he’s probably leaning toward being overrated as a fourth-round pick.
Quarterback guru Jay Gruden goes to Washington -- While this is great news for Griffin, it might be worst news for Andy Dalton, who finished with the third-most passing touchdowns (33) in the league last season, behind Peyton Manning (50) and Drew Brees (39).
Rookie running backs -- Once again, we hear about how bad this crop of rookies coming in will be, and really, Bishop Sankey is the only one with a realistic shot of being a featured back. But much like last year, when no running backs were taken in the first round of the NFL draft, there were plenty of gems among the rookie running backs, like Le’Veon Bell, Eddie Lacy, Zac Stacy and Giovani Bernard.
Sophomore wide receivers -- Looking to get a leg up on some late-round sleepers? Look no further than the second-year pass catchers, as they’ve generally been much better at becoming fantasy starters than their sophomore-running back counterparts.
Under Indefinite Suspension -- After violating the league’s substance abuse policy three times (in just two years!), Justin Blackmon has been indefinitely suspended. Between Blackmon and Gordon, someone should find out what was in the water for the Class of 2012 wide receivers.
Vernon Davis -- He's not happy with his contract, and he could end up holding out longer than any of us hope, including Colin Kaepernick’s owners. Davis’ current ADP sits at 5.09, but that could rise or drop depending on his signature.
Wide receivers drafted in the first round -- The ascension of the passing game and the question marks surrounding many running backs have turned a handful of wide receivers, such as Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant and A.J. Green, into first-round candidates.
EXamples of sleeper candidates (Anyone else have better 'X' news?) -- QB Josh McCown, RB Chris Ivory, WR Marvin Jones and TE Charles Clay rank among the top.
Young quarterbacks -- It wasn’t too long ago when about half of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL were second- or third-year players. This season, however, we’ve seen a slight tick back, as last year’s crew and this year’s group weren’t quite as star-studded as 2011 and '12. Entering '14, the only second- and third-year quarterbacks expected to start the season are Griffin, Nick Foles, Andrew Luck, E.J. Manuel, Ryan Tannehill, Geno Smith and Russell Wilson.
Zac Stacy -- Entering his second season in the NFL, Stacy will, without doubt, handle the bulk of carries for the Rams. But can he improve on his rookie year and become a more efficient runner? We'll have to wait to see.