The preseason is in the books and the 2014 NFL regular season is just 72 hours away. With final cuts taking place over the weekend, there is plenty of news fantasy owners should keep in mind. Whether you still have a draft on the horizon, or are already looking at ways to tweak your roster, catch up on the latest fantasy buzz below.
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Ryan Mallett heads to Houston
It’s rare that the trade of a backup quarterback for a conditional sixth- or seventh-round pick makes news in fantasy leagues, but there is a first time for everything. With Jimmy Garoppolo earning the No. 2 spot on the depth chart behind Tom Brady, Mallett suddenly became expendable for the Patriots. They found their taker over the weekend in the form of the quarterback-needy Texans. While this move may not have immediate repercussions, it is one that fantasy owners should evaluate.
It’s no secret that the Texans have a tenuous quarterback situation. Andre Johnson made sure everyone knew that when he expressed a desire to play almost anywhere else. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been among the worst quarterbacks this preseason, completing 58.1 percent of his passes for 232 yards, 5.4 yards per attempt, one touchdown and two interceptions. The Texans defense figures to be much better this year, with Jadaveon Clowney joining J.J. Watt on the line, and Brian Cushing back healthy. Once you get beyond the Denvers and New Englands, the AFC looks wide open. The Texans could be right back in the playoff mix if their offense doesn’t fall flat on its face. Fitzpatrick isn’t the guy to keep them upright.
Understand that Mallett won’t be starting any time soon. He just got to Houston on Sunday, and there’s still that whole matter of learning the playbook. However, there was always a belief he was a capable guy while in New England. At 6-foot-6 with a good arm, he may give the Texans a better option than Fitzpatrick. If he does eventually work his way into the starter’s job, he’d be piloting an offense with Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, and potential breakout candidates in DeAndre Hopkins and Garrett Graham. He wouldn’t exactly shoot to the top of the fantasy rankings, but he would be a guy worth rostering in deeper leagues. If you have some roster space to play with, or are still drafting in a deep league, make sure Mallett is now on your radar.
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Sports Illustrated's lead fantasy writer Michael Beller unveils the three players with the highest fantasy football ceilings going into the 2014 season.
Alex Boone ends holdout, signs two-year deal
Boone may not directly impact your fantasy league, but if you’ve watched the 49ers at all this preseason, it’s pretty easy to see what he means to Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore and the rest of the unit. The Niners have looked dreadful this preseason. Boone may not have everything to do with it, but he’s arguably San Francisco’s best lineman and one of the best guards in the league. Now that he is back, there’s reason for a bit more optimism about the San Francisco skill players.
No one realized just how badly the Niners needed Boone back more than the team’s front office. Not only did they betray their practice of not negotiating a new deal this late in the preseason, they also waived the $1.2 million in fines Boone racked up during his holdout. This was a team that could no longer stand on principle. Fantasy owners of players on the 49ers will be better off for it.
According to Pro Football Focus, the 49ers had one of the best offensive lines in the league last year. The group ranked 10th in pass blocking and second in run blocking. The same was true in 2012, when it ranked seventh in pass blocking and led the league in run blocking. Boone has been a major part of that. Boone is an especially adept run blocker, so Gore and Carlos Hyde should see bigger holes in the regular season than they did in the preseason since they’ll have the big third-year man out of Ohio State up front again. It doesn’t boost their trade value or draft stock enough to make a drastic change in their rankings, but it is nonetheless a step in the right direction.
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Sammy Watkins in doubt for Week 1
The Bills raised some eyebrows when they traded up to snag Watkins with the fourth overall pick in the draft. Now they might have to wait a little longer than they expected to see him on the field in a game that actually counts.
Watkins may be unable to play in the Bills’ season-opener with the Bears because of bruised ribs. He first injured the ribs in the Bills’ second week of the preseason, then aggravated the injury the very next week. Given the sensitivity of the ribcage, the Bills may be forced to keep their new car in the garage at the very start of the season.
Another factor the Bills have to consider is Watkins’ practice time. On the one hand, all you can really do to heal bruised ribs is give them rest. On the other, Watkins likely needs all the reps he can get in practice as a rookie. No matter what happens this week, he’ll either miss out on the rest his ribs need, or the reps he needs to learn an NFL offense.
For those of you still drafting, this is just another reason why Watkins has fallen down draft boards. Just one week ago, he was being taken toward the end of the seventh round in a 12-team league. He has fallen to the early ninth round in drafts conducted over the last week. Even with that discount, I’d rather invest in similarly priced players like Justin Hunter and Rueben Randle. Watkins was already dealing with the uncertain nature of the Bills offense, from the line to quarterback EJ Manuel. Now he has a potentially nagging injury to a part of his body that will likely get hit more than all the rest combined. Bruised ribs may not seem like the most serious injury for a football player, but it is definitely one from which it is hard to recover. All of this makes Watkins a very risky proposition.
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