INDIANAPOLIS --- I'm already going through withdrawal. At the very least, the NFL Combine begins in 11 days, and there are some intriguing running backs and wide receivers to keep an eye on at Lucas Oil Stadium. That's just one of the 10 offseason storylines I'll be following in fantasy football:
STEVE'S TOP 10 OFFSEASON STORYLINES IN FANTASY FOOTBALL
10. Fantasy Prospects in the NFL Draft: The crop of RBs in this draft may be a little more intriguing than the WRs, because it feels like so many teams could upgrade at that RB spot. Plus, WR production in fantasy so often has to do with the quality of quarterback on the team they get drafted by (see Sammy Watkins and Marqise Lee vs. Odell Beckham Jr. and Kelvin Benjamin last year). There are still a couple WRs I love at the top of this year's group, but I can't get excited until I see the situation they get drafted into as a rookie. I'd also very much caution expecting the same results from rookie WRs that we saw from last year's historic class. That was the exception to the rule. The running backs are a different story. See Jeremy Hill or Tre Mason last year, or Giovani Bernard, Le'Veon Bell, Eddie Lacy, and Zac Stacy in 2013. Here are the RBs and WRs I'll be keeping an eye on this draft season:
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon
Indiana RB Tevin Coleman
Georgia RB Todd Gurley (still recovering from torn ACL suffered November 15th)
Boise State RB Jay Ajayi
Alabama RBT.J. Yeldon
Miami RB Duke Johnson
South Carolina RBMike Davis
Alabama WR Amari Cooper
Louisville WR DeVante Parker
West Virginia WR Kevin White
Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong
Oklahoma WR Dorial Green-Beckham (tallest of this group at 6'6")
Michigan WR Devin Funchess
9. Colts Starting Running Back: Indianapolis set franchise records this past season in net yards and net passing yards, while recording its second-highest point total (458) for a season. Ahmad Bradshaw and Boom Herron both illustrated the top RB in this offense has great value in fantasy, with added production in the passing game. The Colts could go a number of different ways at this position for 2015 via free agency, the draft, or sticking with Herron, but it's definitely an important situation to watch in fantasy football this offseason.
8. Will Denver re-sign Julius Thomas? The tight end position is already thin, and in my opinion, Thomas would see a big drop in fantasy production if he goes to a less potent offense, because he's been so touchdown dependent. It would seem like a no-brainer for the Broncos to re-sign Orange Julius, but WR Demaryius Thomas is also a free-agent. Thus, the potential dilemma.
7. Mark Ingram is also a free agent: Ingram was one of the top sleepers in 2014. He was the #15 RB in fantasy last season with the Saints, despite missing 3 games. It will be curious to see if he stays in New Orleans or not. If he goes to a new team, his stock will depend on which team that is (see Toby Gerhart vs. Justin Forsett). If he's not a Saint, Khiry Robinson should get a boost. Other RB situations to watch include Frank Gore in San Francisco (time for Carlos Hyde?) and Just Forsett in Baltimore. John Harbaugh said at the Pro Bowl he wants Forsett back.
6. The Eagles quarterback situation: From the point Nick Foles took over at quarterback in 2013, only Peyton Manning's historic numbers outpaced Foles for the rest of the year. In 2014, whoever the Philadelphia starting quarterback was produced. Between Foles and Mark Sanchez, the Eagles starting quarterback averaged more than 15 fantasy points per week, and that was a mediocre year for this Chip Kelly offense. Kelly now has full control of personnel decisions. Whoever he tabs as his quarterback in 2015 is worth a flier, and you might be able to get him at a really good discount, after the Eagles QBs didn't match the unrealistic expectations set by Nick Foles 2013 production.
5. Adrian Peterson: Will he be a Viking? Will he even be reinstated in time for training camp? If he is, he's not slipping past the 2nd round of fantasy drafts. That's my prediction. Strictly in terms of fantasy, I'd have no reason not to want him on my team in 2015. He didn't miss 2014 due to injury. So don't throw the "RBs when they turn 30" argument at me, when AP hits the big 3-0 March 29. The RBs at 30 argument has to do with years of production and overuse, not strictly the age, and Peterson just basically had a redshirt season.
Plus, if he is a Viking again, he'll have the best quarterback he's had to work with in Teddy Bridgewater since Brett Favre was a Viking in 2009 (when Peterson had 18 rushing touchdowns). We're talking about a guy that rushed for more than 2000 yards with Christian Ponder under center for a full season. Skeptical of Bridgewater? He averaged 16.7 fantasy points per game over the last 6 games of the season. I said he'd be the best quarterback in last year's class between Bortles, Manziel, and him, despite the ridiculous coverage of his Pro Day. He's already started to prove that and would only help Peterson's fantasy value.
4. The Cowboys offense: Will Dallas re-sign RB DeMarco Murray and WR Dez Bryant. Wherever Murray goes in 2015, I likely won't want any part of him. Why? The ridiculous number of touches he had in 2014. Murray had 436 carries, including the postseason, in 2014 (and 61 more receptions). Arian Foster had 405 carries in 2012 and missed 8 games the following year. Maurice Jones-Drew had a career-high 386 touches in 2011 and was only healthy for 6 games in 2012. Michael Turner had 394 carries in 2008, including the playoffs, missed 5 games the next season, and saw his fantasy production almost cut in half.
Murray had 392 carries in the regular season alone this past year. The last player to have that many carries in a regular season was Chiefs RB Larry Johnson in 2006, when he had 416. Johnson had 429 carries in 2006 if you include his one playoff game. So, that still doesn't reach Murray's 436 carries from 2014. Johnson never played a full season again after that, playing in only 37 of a potential 96 games over the remaining six years of his career. But I digress...with how good the Cowboys OL is, I want either Murray's back-up RB there in 2015 or the starter if Murray signs elsewhere.
3. New Head Coaches: Which fantasy players will benefit most from new head coaches? I think the player that benefits most in fantasy football is Broncos RB C.J. Anderson, with the hiring of Gary Kubiak as head coach. Remember what Kubiak did for Arian Foster in Houston, another undrafted running back? Anderson already established himself as a RB1 this season, but Kubiak can only help. The 49ers, Raiders, Falcons, Bears, Jets, and Bills also have new head coaches. I think the Falcons starting RB (whoever that winds up being) benefits from the hiring of Seattle's Dan Quinn. The Bills RB situation has me intrigued too. Is it time for Bryce Brown to be unleashed, under Rex Ryan?
2. Marshawn Lynch's contract: NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reports that the Seahawks have offered Lynch a "huge contract extension". That's good for his fantasy prospects obviously. He'll be 29 when the season starts, but who cares? He's had at least 1300 total yards and 12 touchdowns each of the past four seasons. Remember all that talk of Murray's usage above? The Seahawks have managed Lynch well, rushing for only 280 carries last season. Lynch hasn't missed a game since 2011, when he still played in 15 games.
1 . Is Peyton Manning coming back? How different do the Broncos weapons look in fantasy football if Brock Osweiler, a free-agent signee, or rookie QB are under center for the Broncos? If Manning returns, I still wouldn't draft him over Andrew Luck or Aaron Rodgers in fantasy football at this point, but I'd still be interested in his passing weapons. Regardless of whether Manning comes back, I still love C.J. Anderson. NFL.com's Marcas Grant agrees in his first offseason Big Board, tabbing Anderson currently as his #2 player in fantasy behind Le'Veon Bell.