Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game Week is the MOST boring period in the sports calendar year. If you can think of another one, I’d be happy to hear it (while I mute Chris Berman on my TV)…
Rather than mope and complain further about a silly game that, for some reason, decides home field advantage in the World Series, I’m going to do something healthier…like look ahead to September 10th when the 2015 NFL season starts (coincidentally, my birthday).
Going into my 10th year as a Fantasy commissioner, I may be looking forward to this upcoming season more than most. The wide receiver pool is incredibly deep, running backs are as unpredictable as ever, and Peyton Manning isn’t the end-all, be-all anymore (but is Aaron Rodgers?). More importantly, I’m hungry. My team rebounded from an 0-6 start and went all the way to the championship…and I want my 4th Fantasy Title.
If you were following this site during the Fall last year, then you know that EVERY THURSDAY was Fantasy Mailbag Day. Each week, we recapped the highlights from the previous weekend, looked at trends and match-ups, and answered all your questions from Facebook and Twitter. Thanks to everyone’s participation last year, we’re going to do it again starting in August!
As we get closer to kickoff in September, I’ll release my personal rankings for each position (There are spread sheets, dude. SPREAD. SHEETS.). As for now, I have thoughts and question on my mind that need unloading or else the small part of my brain that stores these things will explode. If you also have thoughts and questions, I’d love to hear them.
DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy
The two marquee NFC East rival running backs of yesteryear will be suiting up in new uniforms this coming Fall. DeMarco Murray answered questions that he could actually stay healthy for an entire season, earned Offensive Player of the Year honors by picking up 2,261 yards from scrimmage and scored 13 touchdowns all on the ground. The Dallas Cowboys awarded him by letting him walk in free agency…to the arch rival Philadelphia Eagles. Murray had nearly 400 attempts rushing last season and with a mess at the Eagles’ quarterback position, he shouldn’t expect the carries to be cutdown too much. Murray is backed up by Darren Sproles and fellow addition Ryan Matthews, but he should still be getting the rock plenty of times…especially in the red zone.
LeSean McCoy was the league’s leading rusher a year before Murray, still ran for over 1,300 yards, but only scored 5 touchdowns. With an opportunity to upgrade the defense adding Kiko Alonso (and maybe some intel on what would would happen with Murray), Chip Kelly traded McCoy to the Buffalo Bills. Weird accusations from McCoy aside, he may be in a more interesting spot than people realize. New Bills coach Rex Ryan added former Niners offensive coordinator Greg Roman to his staff. If you want to project McCoy’s 2015 season, I recommend looking at how Roman used Frank Gore and the other 49er running backs. McCoy averaged 313 carries the past two seasons while Gore averaged 267 over the last four seasons. The cut in workload could keep McCoy fresher, but so should the depth that includes Fred Jackson and rookie Karlos Williams. The ageless Jackson is used to splitting touches and compliments McCoy well. Williams makes a better change-of-pace back than anything in the crowded backfield.
Breakout Running Backs
The running back position saw a lot of action on last season’s fantasy waiver wire and free agency. If you did your due diligence though, you made plays on Justin Forsett, CJ Anderson, Jeremy Hill and Lamar Miller that paid off well.
- On his 5th team and at the age of 29, Forsett had his first full-season workload and led all running backs in yards per carry (5.4). He ranked 5th in rush yards (1,266), and scored 8 touchdowns total. Forsett gained 263 yards on 44 receptions, but that could increase significantly with former Bears head coach Marc Trestman calling plays. Matt Forte broke the record for receptions by a running back last season with 102, and former Raiders running back Charlie Garner caught 91 passes in 2002 with Trestman as OC.
- Anderson came on late in the season but was on the radar as the Broncos dealt with injuries to Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball. Starting the last 7 games of the season while Manning was clearly not 100%, Anderson averaged 167 yards from scrimmage per game and scored 10 touchdowns. Assuming he’s earned the starting running back spot after being named to the Pro Bowl, Anderson should benefit more from new head coach Gary Kubiak’s zone running schemes that made Forsett and Arian Foster into Pro Bowlers as well.
- Like Anderson, Hill saw his carries increase in the second half of the season as he leap frogged Giovani Bernard for playing time following an injury. Hill scored 3 touchdowns through 5 games with limited carries to start the season but then really racked up the yards from Week 8 on, averaging 103 yards per game. Bengals OC Hue Jackson intends on having Hill be the starter again and anticipates he and Bernard becoming a great 1-2 punch.
- I was happy to see Miller have the season he did in 2014. He set out to be like LeSean McCoy after training with him and preparing for a Chip Kelly-like offense, took over for Knowshon Moreno after Week 2, and never looked back. Miller was Top 10 in both total rush yards and rushing touchdowns for the season, had the longest run of the season at 97 yards, and capped the season off with 170+ yard rushing performance. There isn’t any real threat to take carries from Miller this year other than 5th round draft pick Jay Ajayi from Boise State.
Any Sophomore Slumps for Receivers?
In 2014, rookie wide receivers were all the rage. 3 rookies recorded 1,000+ yards, Odell Beckham Jr. (1,305), Mike Evans (1,051), and Kelvin Benjamin (1,008). Sammy Watkins was close with 982 yards on 65 catches. Both Beckham and Evans caught 12 touchdown passes, while Benjamin recorded 9 and Martavis Bryant had 8. Also challenging Beckham for the 93 receptions he had in 11 games was Jarvis Landry with 84 for 758 yards.
All six receivers have potential to be stars in 2015, adding excellent depth to a fantasy draft board full of point producing wide receivers. Beckham’s production down the stretch last season may even warrant a first round pick in leagues with more teams. Evans will have a rookie quarterback throwing to him who is, at the very least, better than Josh McCown. Benjamin is still the best target for the Panthers and newly paid Cam Newton, with tight end Greg Olson drawing some coverage away. Another year playing alongside Antonio Brown will help Bryant improve (Ben Roethlisberger can’t throw EVERY pass to Brown, right?), and Landry will benefit from Ryan Tannehill just getting better every year.
Unfortunately, hopes aren’t so high for Watkins as the starting quarterback position is a battle between Matt Cassel and EJ Manuel (yeesh). If Watkins can stay healthy and the run-oriented system softens opposing secondaries, he may have a chance to improve on his numbers from last year…I just wouldn’t bank on it.