With the NFL playoffs raging on, most fantasy football owners are looking back fondly on the season past, wondering what might have been. Even the owners who won championships are already plotting a repeat in 2015. But as we know, there are many events still left to play out over the next eight months or so, and your fantasy draft plans will swing and sway. But the answers to the seven questions we pose below will shape your fantasy thoughts considerably.
Where will DeMarco Murray play next season?
Murray will turn just 27 years old in February, and the Cowboys will likely work to re-sign the franchise’s new single-season rushing leader. He grew up in Las Vegas and went to college at Oklahoma, which is still widely considered Cowboys territory -- with the Chiefs coming in a close second.
I’ve long held the belief that Murray was one of the best running backs in the league, but he always ran to contact, and his body paid for it (as did his fantasy owners) with injuries. This season, Murray was able to stay healthy (outside of a broken hand in Week 15 that he played through), and he finished 2014 as the best fantasy running back in non-PPR leagues with 13 touchdowns and an NFL-high 1,845 rushing yards -- nearly 500 more than second-place Le’Veon Bell.
While I expect Murray to stay in Dallas next season, I’m curious to see what toll this season will take on him. Only six other NFL running backs have ever carried the ball more times than Murray, who had 392 carries in the regular season. Obviously, there’s going to be some regression, but does a huge season automatically mean a big dropoff in carries the following year? Not necessarily. Of the six players who had more carries than Murray in a single regular season, three of them had 315 or more the following year. (LeSean McCoy is the only other running back with 300 or more carries this year.) And of the other three running backs, Eric Dickerson had 288 carries in a strike-shortened season, while Larry Johnson (foot) and Jamal Anderson (knee) missed more than half of their seasons with major injuries.
The Cowboys found success on the ground this year, and will want him back, but he’ll be costly, and this team is already salary-heavy on the offensive side of the ball. Plus, the upcoming 2015 NFL draft features one of the best running back classes in years, with Melvin Gordon, Duke Johnson, Toddy Gurley, Ameer Abdullah, and T.J. Yeldon available, to name a few.
Even if Murray does return, sharing the role a little more with Joseph Randle could help keep Murray from joining Anderson and Johnson on the list of injured RBs in their follow-up season.
How does a healthy Victor Cruz affect Odell Beckham's draft value?
Cruz tore his patellar tendon in Week 6 this past season, which should give him over nine months of recovery time before Giants training camp. (It’s interesting to note that Cruz enjoyed his own breakout with the Giants, like Beckham, after injuries to both Domenik Hixon and Mario Manningham back in 2011.)
Last week, Giants general manager Jerry Reese told the New York Post that the Giants can’t blindly expect Cruz to play next season. “You’ve got to prepare as if, ‘What if Victor Cruz doesn’t come back?’ ’ Reese said Tuesday. “If you are a personnel guy, or a general manager, that is always in the back of your head. What if this guy doesn’t come back and be the player that we think he is?’’
If they’re preparing for life without Cruz -- or at least life without Cruz at 100 percent, that means they’re preparing for Beckham as their star once again. Even if Cruz comes back healthy, this Giants’ offense should be able to feed both as top-25 fantasy wideouts, with OBJ producing top-five numbers.
The interesting part of all this is if Eli Manning has both wide receivers available in 2015, he’ll be a top-12 fantasy option at quarterback. He was a top-10 QB from Week 5 to Week 17, once Beckham returned from a hamstring injury.
How does Le'Veon Bell's possible suspension affect where he gets drafted?
Last month, Bell agreed to enter a first-time offenders program in hopes that his charges of possession of marijuana and driving under the influence would be dismissed and expunged from his record. While his legal troubles look like they’re behind him, he could still face game suspensions from the NFL. According to the collective bargaining agreement, commissioner Roger Goodell could impose up to a four-game suspension on Bell.
When Ray Rice was facing a two-game suspension in 2014, he was generally drafted near Round 6 and beyond, but that was after a lackluster ‘13 season for the 27-year-old running back.
Without a suspension, Bell would be in the discussion at No. 1 overall in many 2015 drafts. If the best fantasy points-per-game running back is available for 14 games, grabbing him late in the first round wouldn’t be insane either.
Once everyone's healthy, where will we draft the Broncos’ running backs?
It was just about one year ago right now that fantasy owners were revving up the “Montee Ball Early Round Fantasy Train” and we know how that turned out. Between injuries and uninspiring play, Ball miserably failed to live up to his draft value (ADP 2.04). That will no doubt affect the fantasy opinions of C.J. Anderson, who is the likely starter at tailback in 2015. And let’s not forget how well Ronnie Hillman looked before his foot injury -- or how well Ball looked in the 2013 NFL playoffs, for that matter.
Just remember this -- when all three running backs were healthy, the Broncos had Anderson listed third behind Ball and Hillman. The latter two will be two of the most popular sleeper picks in the game this summer.
General Manager Ray Farmer appears to be ready to part ways with the troublesome wide receiver. Between multiple drug violations and then a late-season missed practice (and Week 17 suspension), Gordon has burned plenty of Browns bridges. Most beat writers agree the Browns will likely either trade or waive him this offseason, which they nearly did last offseason, too.
Strangely, a trade of Gordon could actually benefit fantasy owners, depending on where he goes. The Browns aren’t going to move on from Johnny Manziel quite as easily, which means more growing pains for that passing offense. If Gordon ends up on a WR-starved ballclub, like the Chiefs, Rams, Raiders or Seahawks, then he could be a 150-target receiver once again. (He’d look pretty good in silver and black, no?)
Are the Seahawks ready to use a younger RB over a final (expensive) year from Marshawn Lynch?
When the 2015 season kicks off, Lynch will be a 29-year-old running back under contract with the Seahawks for $5 million (with more than $2.5 million available in roster bonuses) before he becomes a free agent in ‘16. Remember when his holdout for more money failed last July?
Since coming over to the Seahawks in 2010, he has played in all but one regular-season game, racking up more than 1,450 touches. There’s no doubt the Seahawks could use “Beast Mode,” but NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport notes Lynch could even consider retirement after this season.
Lynch would rank as one of the most expensive running backs in the league next season, and it’s not unheard of to see a team release a veteran player in the last year of his contract -- to save themselves money, and to allow that player a chance to sign one more big contract somewhere else.
Gore probably played his last game for the 49ers, as he’ll turn 32 in May, and a new coaching regime will be moving in soon. His departure opens up a great opportunity for sophomore running back Carlos Hyde, who sprinkled in some dazzling runs amid many unimpressive carries.
Hyde’s 4.0 yards per carry can be attributed to his offensive line just as much as his talent, and he’ll likely be listed among many 2015 breakout lists.
The 49ers have been a top-five rushing offense in each of the past three seasons, and it’s safe to say Hyde would be the featured back in 2015 if Gore leaves, no matter who comes in to coach this team. That makes him good enough to be a very early pick, but not seeing him in that role (or knowing the offensive system) makes him a gamble pushed back to Rounds 2 or 3 -- if Gore moves on.