2018 Fantasy Football Offseason: Catching up with NFL coaches on backfield battles, Amari Cooper's upside and more
Jamey Eisenberg catches you up with some Fantasy news and notes from several coaches at the recent NFL annual meeting.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The biggest player news from the NFL's annual league meeting had to do with Giants receiver Odell Beckham and whether he will be traded. We'll see if that happens before the NFL Draft, but for now he is staying in New York.
Other relevant news items coming out of the league meetings had to do with Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (shoulder), who is throwing the ball, Cardinals running back David Johnson (wrist), who is expected to be ready for offseason workouts, and Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (ACL), who is ahead of schedule in his recovery.
This is all good news for Fantasy players heading into the 2018 season.
Along with these news items, I got the chance to catch up with several other coaches about plenty of players and position battles heading into this year. Here's a sampling of what some of these coaches had to say and the potential impact on their Fantasy value.
Jon Gruden excited for Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, Derek Carr
New Raiders coach Jon Gruden is known to get overexcited about things, but he's looking forward to eventually getting on the field with quarterback Derek Carr and receivers Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson. He spoke glowingly about all three, especially Cooper, who was a Fantasy bust in 2017. Gruden compared Cooper to a "young Tim Brown," which is high praise considering Brown is in the Hall of Fame.
"We need him to be the Cooper he was the first two years," Gruden said. "I think I said it earlier, we're going to make him the main vein of our pass offense. Move him around a lot. We are really excited about him. He's entering the prime of his career. He would also benefit from being in the same system for a couple of years."
Gruden said Cooper will benefit from having someone like Nelson opposite him this season. The Raiders signed Nelson, who was cut by the Packers, to a two-year deal worth $15 million.
"He can still run," Gruden said of Nelson. "He's a guy we can put on the back side of trips. He can win at the line of scrimmage against press coverage. He's good after the catch. He brings a lot of the 'it' factor that we need. Work ethic. Unselfishness. He'll block. He's excellent in scramble drills. His work ethic and his consistency is something that will benefit our football team. He's one of the free agents that I think is going to play a huge role for us."
Making those guys thrive for the Raiders will be Carr, who like Cooper and Nelson struggled last year. But Gruden said Carr has plenty of upside and should improve under his tutelage.
"He's obviously an impressive talent," Gruden said. "He can make all the throws. He's athletic. I just like the passion he plays with. You can see it in his eyes. He's proven his leadership skills. He's well thought of. He's been productive in a lot of different systems. We're hoping we can try to improve around him so he can be great."
Fantasy players should view Cooper as a solid No. 2 Fantasy receiver worth drafting in Round 3 or 4, Nelson is a mid-round pick at best and Carr is a late-round flier. Carr could emerge as a No. 1 Fantasy quarterback, but he's not worth drafting as a starter given the depth at the position.
Mike Vrabel says Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis can work together
I wasn't happy to see Dion Lewis sign with the Titans as a free agent, and Tennessee gave him a four-year deal worth $20 million. Now we have a potential headache with Derrick Henry and Lewis, which could limit each other's upside.
While that's a problem for Fantasy owners, it's a nice situation for new Titans coach Mike Vrabel. He has two talented running backs to work with, and he expects this tandem to succeed.
But based on what Vrabel said, it appears like Henry has a higher ceiling than Lewis in Fantasy value.
"He has a very unique skill-set," Vrabel said of Henry. "Size and speed are critical to good running backs and good players. He does have the size element, and he showed the ability to run away from people. We're looking forward to his development and his improvement, and I think he is, too."
I asked Vrabel if Henry and Lewis can work well together, and he said "they'll work together fine. They've both shown that they don't have to be the guy that gets 30 carries. The 30-carry a game guys, I don't think they exist anymore. It's a hard position to play. Dion's been other places where there's been other guys. He's been a great teammate. Some games he might have a bigger role, and other games he might have a lesser role. We're comfortable with those two guys going in."
I like Henry better than Lewis in standard leagues, and it's close in PPR. Lewis has a bad track record of staying healthy (2017 was the first time he played 16 games in his career), and Henry profiles as a standout Fantasy option given his scoring potential. I'm drafting Henry no later than Round 4 in standard leagues (Round 6 in PPR), and Lewis is someone to target with a mid-round pick in standard and Round 5 in PPR.
Bill O'Brien optimistic about D'Onta Foreman
Texans coach Bill O'Brien said second-year running back D'Onta Foreman (Achilles) should be ready for training camp, and when he's healthy he could push Lamar Miller for the starting job.
"He's got to earn that, but he showed a lot of promise last year before he got hurt," O'Brien said. "I really like the way he plays the game. I like the physical aspect he brings to the game. I like a lot of what he does."
O'Brien added "it will be a battle" for the starting job, but he plans to use a committee regardless.
"Lamar will play. D'Onta will play. Just like we did last year," O'Brien said.
We need to see Foreman healthy in training camp first, but he's a high-upside sleeper heading into this season. Miller still has the potential to be a No. 2 Fantasy running back if he can hold off Foreman for the starting job, but I'd rather pass on Miller in his expected Round 4 average draft position and take a flier on Foreman with a later-round pick if he's healthy.
Mike McCarthy not giving up on Ty Montgomery
Packers coach Mike McCarthy spoke highly of all his running backs in Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery, but he sounded the most confident about Montgomery, which was a surprise. There was some thought this offseason from the Green Bay media that Montgomery could move back to receiver, but McCarthy shot down that notion.
"Ty Montgomery is a running back, and he's a damn good one," McCarthy said. "He gives us a lot of ability to play schematically any way we want to play. He's been there every day, too. He's in there working out. He looks great. I think you'll see a bigger, stronger Ty Montgomery this year."
This doesn't mean Montgomery is the starter or even ahead of Williams or Jones on the depth chart. It just makes it a potential messy situation for Fantasy.
I still plan to draft Williams first in the Round 4 range, but I might look at Montgomery ahead of Jones now with a mid- to late-round pick, especially in PPR. We'll find out how McCarthy views all three of them in training camp, and he's keeping an open mind about his starter prior to seeing them on the field.
"I just want them all to stay healthy and continue to grow," McCarthy said. "Whoever starts is up to them. That's the way I've always viewed it. That's the way I present it to the players. I'm for all of them starting. That's the kind of competition that you want."
Pete Carroll excited for Chris Carson, but also high on Mike Davis
Like Gruden, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is also known to be passionate about his players, and that was true in his comments about running back Chris Carson. Carroll said Carson is fully recovered from last year's broken leg, and he expects Carson to compete with Mike Davis for the starting job.
"He's in beautiful shape and ready to go," Carroll said of Carson. "Chris was a great addition to our club and one of my favorite draft picks that we made. I'm really excited about him. I'm hoping he's going to have a great season. He showed us everything we needed to see last year. ... I'm really looking forward to Chris' return."
It was a little surprising to hear Carroll say Davis has the chance to start, but Carroll preaches competition throughout his roster, especially at an unsettled position like running back. I expect Carson to win the job, and he's someone to target in Round 6 in the majority of leagues.
But based on what Carroll said, it might not be a bad idea to look at Davis also with a late-round pick, especially if the Seahawks don't address running back in the NFL Draft.
"Mike Davis did a really nice job for us last year," Carroll said. "Mike showed us consistency and the toughness and the production. Mike comes back getting the ball first, and the competition is on. That's the first hand-off, and then everyone is even from there."
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