What the lockout means for Fantasy
Back in April, during a phone interview with Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin , he spoke about the possibility of a long lockout and the impact on the upcoming 2011 season.
Boldin said the Ravens would be in a good position to compete for a Super Bowl because they weren't going to have too much turnover in the coaching staff or the core of their roster. He's right, which is why teams like Baltimore, Green Bay, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, San Diego and several others are in better shape once the lockout ends than teams with new coaches or new quarterbacks, among other positions.
You can expect that the lack of a full offseason will be tough for rebuilding teams like Carolina, Cleveland, Denver and San Francisco to even make the playoffs based on minimal time spent between the coaches and players. The less continuity, the harder it will be to develop chemistry on the field and in the locker room.
In applying this same idea to Fantasy Football, we came up with some storylines to monitor when dealing with the lockout. We all expect the NFL to have a season in 2011, but if teams don't meet for the first time until August, there could be significant ramifications during the year.
The private player workouts that teams like Atlanta, Kansas City, Miami and Tampa Bay are holding are great for the players to keep fresh, but they don't compare to actual minicamps with coaches in attendance. It's just another thing to keep in mind on Draft Day when deciding between Player A and Player B.
New head coaches
There are six new head coaches this year in Carolina (Ron Rivera), Cleveland (Pat Shurmur), Denver (John Fox), Oakland (Hue Jackson), San Francisco (Jim Harbaugh) and Tennessee (Mike Munchak). There are also two interim head coaches who were promoted to the top job in Dallas (Jason Garrett) and Minnesota (Leslie Frazier).
How these coaches prepare, the systems that they run and their coaching philosophy is going to be new to members of their team. It could be detrimental to teams with the lockout trifecta -- new head coach, new offensive coordinator and new quarterback. The teams that fall into that category include Carolina, Minnesota, San Francisco and Tennessee.
The Panthers have Rivera, new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and rookie quarterback Cam Newton . Not that you're drafting Newton in a standard Fantasy league or any of their receivers aside from Steve Smith , who could be traded or released, but a poor passing game will lead to even more defenders at the line of scrimmage for running back Jonathan Stewart and possibly DeAngelo Williams -- if he stays in Carolina.
A potential Draft Day decision: Ryan Mathews or Stewart. Mathews is the safer selection because his offense is in better shape heading into 2011.
The Vikings have Frazier, new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and either rookie Christian Ponder or a veteran to be determined at quarterback. This change will impact Percy Harvin and possibly Sidney Rice if he returns to Minnesota as a potential free agent. And running back Adrian Peterson has spent more time training in Houston with Vince Young , who won't be a Viking, than Ponder. How many fumbles could occur with bad handoff exchanges?
A potential Draft Day decision: Arian Foster or Peterson. Foster has Matt Schaub while Peterson could have Ponder. That gives Foster a slight nod in the first round.
The 49ers have a college staff headed to the Bay Area with former Stanford coaches in Harbaugh and new offensive coordinator Greg Roman to work with either rookie Colin Kaepernick or retread Alex Smith . Kaepernick is being tutored on the new offense by current Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck, and Smith once again has to learn a new system. This could lead to problems for Frank Gore , Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis .
A potential Draft Day decision: Jason Witten or Davis. Witten and Tony Romo are best friends. Davis might not have met Kaepernick yet. Go with the tight end who has the better rapport with his quarterback.
And for the Titans, Munchak has hired new offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, and they will have either rookie Jake Locker at quarterback or possibly veteran Kerry Collins . Palmer has said he's studied plenty of tape on Locker, but how many passes has he watched Locker throw to Kenny Britt or hand the ball off to Chris Johnson ? If you guessed as many as you or I have this offseason then you're right on the money.
A potential Draft Day decision: Deion Branch or Britt. Britt might have more upside, but Branch has Tom Brady . Better quarterback, better passing game and probably better stats for Branch in 2011.
New offensive coordinators
Aside from the four teams with the lockout trifecta, there are also seven other teams with a new offensive coordinator in place when looking at Arizona (Mike Miller), Cincinnati (Jay Gruden), Denver (Mike McCoy), Kansas City (Bill Muir), Miami (Brian Daboll), Oakland (Al Saunders) and St. Louis (Josh McDaniels). Cleveland also will go with Shurmur calling plays to replace Daboll, who was their offensive coordinator last year.
The offense shouldn't change much in Arizona since Miller was promoted from within, and the same goes for Muir in Kansas City, although the loss of former offensive coordinator Charlie Weis could hurt. McCoy also was on Fox's staff in Carolina before he went to the Broncos, and the two will be reunited this year. And in Oakland, Jackson will likely keep his offense in place even with Saunders on staff, so don't expect too much change there.
But the Bengals offense should look different with Jon Gruden's younger brother calling plays. He runs a West Coast offense, but he also promises to run the ball as much as possible. That should help Cedric Benson as long as he re-signs with Cincinnati as a free agent. The problem becomes who is the quarterback since Carson Palmer has asked for a trade or threatened retirement, and the Bengals drafted rookie Andy Dalton . While rookie wide receiver A.J. Green could emerge as the No. 1 target in Cincinnati if Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens are gone as expected, he could also struggle with an unproven quarterback in a new offense.
A potential Draft Day decision: Derrick Mason or Green. Mason might be old and on the downside of his career, but he remains a favorite target for Joe Flacco . Green and Palmer might not be on the field together until training camp, and Dalton will be very raw.
In Miami, Daboll inherits the 30th-ranked scoring offense from 2010, which is a step up for him after running the offense in Cleveland. Last year the Browns were No. 31 in scoring offense. It appears as if Chad Henne will return as the starting quarterback, and the Dolphins will go with rookie Daniel Thomas as the starting running back. He could be this year's Peyton Hillis based on Daboll's offense from last year. Brandon Marshall struggled in his first year in Miami in 2010 with just three touchdowns, and he could have another difficult year again with Henne and another new offense.
A potential Draft Day decision: Mike Williams of Tampa Bay or Marshall. Williams might turn out to be a one-year wonder, but he has an established offense and a developing star at quarterback on his side in Josh Freeman . Marshall is proven, but Williams has a higher ceiling.
The Rams offense has the chance to improve this season if Sam Bradford can pick up McDaniels' system. McDaniels was great as an offensive coordinator in New England, and his passing attack in Denver the past two years was stellar. Bradford might turn out to be a solid No. 2 Fantasy quarterback during the season, but his inability to become accustomed to this new pass-happy offense could hurt Steven Jackson . He's not a bust candidate, but he's no longer a lock as a first-round pick on Draft Day.
A potential Draft Day decision: Michael Turner or Jackson. In standard formats, the choice should be Turner. He scores more, and his offense is the same. Jackson has more versatility in the passing game, but McDaniels' system could hurt Jackson's overall totals.
In Cleveland, Shurmur will run a West Coast offense. That could help the passing game and second-year quarterback Colt McCoy , but Hillis is not going to play like he did last year. For starters, the return of second-year running back Montario Hardesty will cut into his playing time, and there will be more pass plays called this season. But if Hillis isn't on the field in passing situations (there's talk of the Browns adding a third-down back once the lockout is lifted) then his standout stats from last year could decline.
A potential Draft Day decision: Ahmad Bradshaw or Hillis. We expect Bradshaw to remain with the Giants as a free agent, and he should be taken ahead of Hillis. Even though Hillis might score more, Bradshaw's total production should be higher.
Unsettled quarterback situations
Carolina, Minnesota and Tennessee could open the season with rookie quarterbacks in Newton, Ponder and Locker, respectively. Those aren't going to be good Fantasy options, and the receivers on those teams could struggle. We could also see rookie quarterbacks in Cincinnati with Dalton and San Francisco with Kaepernick, and there's an outside chance Blaine Gabbert beats out David Garrard in Jacksonville, although that's unlikely to happen.
But at least those teams have viable options at quarterback. Arizona and Washington are left with no one due to the lockout. If the season started today, the Cardinals would start Max Hall since Derek Anderson isn't expected to return, and the Redskins would go with John Beck since Donovan McNabb isn't coming back. That will change once the lockout is lifted and free agents can sign and trades can happen, but it's a scary thought if Hall and Beck are starters in 2011.
The Cardinals will likely be in the running for Kevin Kolb as a trade option, and they could also go after Marc Bulger . Either one would be an upgrade, but how long will it take to learn a new offense or develop a rapport with Larry Fitzgerald and the rest of the receivers? You're not going to pass on Fitzgerald, who still had his fourth year in a row with at least 90 catches, 1,000 yards and six touchdowns last year despite the poor quarterback play. But does Fitzgerald still excite you as a No. 1 Fantasy option?
A potential Draft Day decision: DeSean Jackson or Fitzgerald. In standard formats, go with Jackson, who has a star quarterback in Michael Vick . Both receivers are in contract years and both are big-play threats. But the quarterback gives Jackson the edge.
The Redskins might be stuck with Beck or Rex Grossman in 2011, and Grossman wouldn't be horrible since he's familiar with the system. He actually played well last year when he started the final three games in place of McNabb and finished with 840 passing yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions. But the idea of Grossman or Beck starting hurts the Fantasy value for a potential starter like Chris Cooley or a rookie with upside in Leonard Hankerson . And if Santana Moss returns as a free agent, his value would also go down.
A potential Draft Day decision: Kellen Winslow or Cooley. Winslow is always going to be an injury risk for Fantasy owners, but he looks healthy this offseason in workouts with Freeman. His quarterback, however, makes him a safer option than Cooley as a starter with a late-round pick.
My strategy when it comes to drafting rookies is fairly simple. Avoid rookie quarterbacks and tight ends, take rookie running backs with potential and spend a late-round pick on at least one rookie wide receiver who can make an impact. Last year, I tried to get Williams from Tampa Bay based on the way he performed in the preseason and his role on offense.
That strategy won't change too much with the lockout. The rookie running backs should be fine even with the lack of offseason workouts. They might struggle to learn the nuances of the offense, but taking a handoff and following blockers shouldn't be difficult to grasp. So if you're counting on Thomas, Mark Ingram , Ryan Williams or any of the other rookie running backs, have no fear even with the lockout.
The receivers, however, could be in trouble early because they have to develop a rapport with a new quarterback, learn new routes and a new offense and adjust to tougher defenses. While it's great that Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are catching passes in shorts, for example, they aren't simulating opposing defenses in their private workouts in Atlanta.
Jones, Green, Hankerson, Greg Little and Titus Young are some rookie receivers to consider on Draft Day, but be prepared for them to struggle because of the lack of preparation due to the lockout.
A potential Draft Day decision: Hines Ward or Jones. Ward might be more interested in dancing this offseason than football, but his rapport with Ben Roethlisberger is unmatched. Jones and Ryan might be getting along now, but in a tough spot, Ryan is going to Roddy White or Tony Gonzalez based on their history together and countless hours of practice.
Potential offensive line changes
Several teams will have new starters on the offensive line, but it's the rookie left tackles here that could make a significant impact. We're also a little concerned with rookie centers in Miami (Mike Pouncey) and Oakland (Stefen Wisniewski) since they have to learn the line calls, make clean snaps and block, and the lockout is hindering that process.
But two elite quarterbacks could have rookies protecting their blind side in Tom Brady with Nate Solder and Peyton Manning with Anthony Castonzo . That could lead to additional sacks and unwanted hits based on the limited offseason.
While you're not going to pass on Brady or Manning as starting Fantasy options, this could alter your decision on Draft Day.
A potential Draft Day decision: Philip Rivers or Brady. Matt Light could still return as a free agent to the Patriots, which would make Fantasy owners feel more comfortable than going with Solder. But Rivers, also an elite Fantasy quarterback, has a proven left tackle in Marcus McNeill .
Injuries are a concern every offseason, especially for players who didn't finish the season the previous year. But with the lockout and the lack of minicamps, we're not getting official updates since players can't work with team medical staffs.
So while it's nice to hear that Dallas Clark wrist feels fine or that Jay Cutler knee is OK, we'd like to be more at ease heading into training camp. And here are five injuries that we'd like to know more about.
Maurice Jones-Drew : He had knee surgery following the season after sitting out the final two games in 2010. While early reports are that he's OK, if you spend a first-round pick on Jones-Drew and he struggles, your Fantasy team could be ruined.
A potential Draft Day decision: LeSean McCoy or Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew, when healthy, will score more and see more touches than McCoy. But McCoy is on the rise and doesn't have knee problems, which could give him the edge.
Antonio Gates : Gates was limited to 10 games last year due to foot and toe problems, but coach Norv Turner said Gates was doing fine in the two days the lockout was lifted in April. Still, with a fourth-round investment as the No. 1 tight end, you want to make sure Gates will be on the field for at least 13 games.
A potential Draft Day decision: Jason Witten or Gates. Gates is the No. 1 Fantasy tight end coming into the season, but if you want to wait and take a safer option for health reasons one round later, then Witten is your man.
Austin Collie : Collie was limited to nine games in 2010 due to a series of concussions, and he said he's been cleared for action this season. Prior to getting hurt last year, Collie had 44 catches for 503 yards and six touchdowns in the first six games. If he can stay on the field, he would be a steal as a No. 3 Fantasy wide receiver with a mid-round pick.
A potential Draft Day decision: Pierre Garcon or Collie. Collie outplayed Garcon last year when both were healthy, but Garcon was able to finish the season as Peyton Manning second-best wide receiver behind Reggie Wayne . If Collie plays 16 games, he should surpass Garcon's stats, but playing a full season is the key.
Steve Smith : Smith was limited to nine games last year for the Giants and had microfracture surgery in December. He hopes to be ready for the start of the season, but he might be limited once training camp starts. He's also a free agent, but he's expected to return to the Giants. He's a standout wide receiver in leagues where receptions count, but his injury is a concern.
A potential Draft Day decision: Mario Manningham or Smith. Manningham will likely start with Smith out, and he played well in place of Smith last year. He closed the season with 16 catches for 346 yards and four touchdowns in his final three games with Smith out. If Smith is healthy, he has a higher ceiling, but Manningham is the safer option on Draft Day.
Marques Colston : The Saints wide receiver underwent microfracture surgery in January on his right knee, but he's already running and catching passes. Colston had microfracture surgery on his left knee in 2009, and he played in 16 games and finished with 70 catches for 1,074 yards and nine touchdowns. He should be fine, but as a No. 2 Fantasy wide receiver, we want to make sure he doesn't have a setback.
A Draft Day decision: Wes Welker or Colston. Welker was an injury risk last year, but he started the season on time and played well in 2010. We hope Colston can do the same, but take Welker over Colston on Draft Day in all leagues. It's an easy decision in leagues where receptions count, but Welker is safer than Colston with the injury concern.
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