Fantasy Football Notebook: Updates on Carson Wentz, Le'Veon Bell & more
Jamey Eisenberg empties his notebook after talking to several NFL coaches and players over the past few weeks, including updates on Carson Wentz, Le'Veon Bell, Demaryius Thomas and more.
I had the privilege of speaking to several NFL coaches and players over the past few weeks, which filled up a few notebooks and many hours on the digital recorder. We brought you most of the big headlines here, but there were a few tidbits that slipped through the cracks.
With that in mind, we don't want you to miss any information that could help you on Draft Day. So here are some leftover quotes and noteworthy items from the NFL's annual meeting, as well as Anquan Boldin's recent charity event in South Florida.
Boldin usually does a good job of bringing in several prominent current and former players to his event, and this year he had Larry Fitzgerald, Willie Snead, Torrey Smith and Josh McCown at his hometown of Pahokee, Florida. We already updated you on , and .
But it was good to catch up with Smith, who spoke about his excitement going to play in Philadelphia with second-year quarterback Carson Wentz. Smith signed a three-year, $15 million deal with the Eagles this offseason after he was cut by San Francisco.
"He can make every throw," Smith said of Wentz. "He works hard. Very smart. Dedicated. I'm looking forward to try and help him get to the next level."
We view Wentz as a sleeper Fantasy quarterback this season, and he's worth drafting with a late-round pick in all leagues. He benefits greatly with the addition of Smith and fellow free agent Alshon Jeffery, which gives the Eagles a much improved receiving corps, including Jordan Matthews, tight end Zach Ertz and running back Darren Sproles.
I asked Smith if the Eagles could have one of the best receiving corps in the NFL this year with their new additions.
"You're only as good as you make it," Smith said. "I know there's going to be high expectations from the fans, as it should be. We have to go out there and deliver. We have to work and make things happen."
Smith was a bust the past two seasons in San Francisco, and he said "it wasn't fun for anyone around there" with the 49ers. Last year, Smith only had 20 catches for 267 yards and three touchdowns on 49 targets in 12 games.
It's hard to be a productive Fantasy receiver when you only get four targets a game.
"The ball literally didn't come my way," Smith said. "That's just how it goes. I learned from it. I grew a lot. I learned how to deal with my professional frustration, and I'll be better from it."
Smith is just a late-round flier in the majority of leagues, but he should benefit being the No. 2 receiver for the Eagles and developing with Wentz. As for Jeffery's Fantasy value, you can.
Matthew Stafford was the No. 8 Fantasy quarterback in 2016, and Boldin said "I don't think he gets enough credit for what he does." Boldin might be right about Stafford.
He passed for 4,327 yards last year with 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and he added 207 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He did that with Boldin and Marvin Jones having to replace the retired Calvin Johnson, although having Golden Tate and some other options helped.
Stafford had five games with at least 26 Fantasy points and five others with at least 18 points in his first 13 outings before suffering a dislocated finger on his throwing hand in Week 14. Boldin said he expects Jones "to be much more comfortable and have a better season," which will help Stafford.
Boldin also could return to the Lions as the No. 3 receiver behind Tate and Jones. Stafford is a great late-round quarterback to settle for. in all leagues.
"I was shocked to be in some meetings and see his accomplishments," Boldin said. "He's legit. He's a good quarterback."
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell had groin surgery in March, and he's now dealt with serious injuries in each of the past three seasons (a knee injury in the 2014 playoffs, a knee injury in Week 8 of the 2015 season and the groin injury in the playoffs last year). But coach Mike Tomlin refused to label Bell as injury prone.
"He is a great player," Tomlin said. "His talents are well-rounded. He displays that consistently. Health is something that none of us can control. I know that he doesn't live or play in fear in that regard. I would imagine that makes him the special player that he is."
Bell is expected to be fine for training camp, and he should be one of the first players drafted in every Fantasy league along with David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott. Tomlin also said Bell won't have any issue with his motivation since he'll be playing this year on the franchise tag.
"I expect him to be Le'Veon and be the pro and competitor that he is," Tomlin said. "Obviously, our intentions are to work a long-term deal out. I would imagine that those are his intentions. I know that's what he has expressed. So, we will continue to work in that regard and not make any assumptions regarding whether he is going to play for the tag or not."
Colts coach Chuck Pagano said drafting a young running back "is paramount," and we'd love to see Indianapolis address the position at No. 15 overall in the first round if Florida State's Dalvin Cook or Stanford's Christian McCaffrey is still on the board. But Pagano also praised Frank Gore, who was the No. 12 Fantasy running back in standard leagues last year.
Gore, who will be 34 in May, is entering his 13th season in the NFL.
"It's a testament to his professionalism and his work ethic," Pagano said. "He's a grinder and a workhorse. He does a great job of taking care of himself. Knock on wood, he's stayed healthy the last couple of years. ... He's a top competitor. And top competitors usually stick around because they understand what you have to do in the offseason."
It sounds like Gore is about to get some company, which will obviously lower his Fantasy value. But if Gore remains the starter in Week 1 then he's still worth drafting with a mid-round pick, and he can be a borderline No. 2 Fantasy running back or flex option in all leagues.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said free agent Latavius Murray has proven to be a three-down running back during his time in Oakland, but there's still going to be a split between Murray and Jerick McKinnon.
"Latavius catches the ball well out of the backfield," Zimmer said. "He's good in protection, knowing who's blitzing, where he's coming from, all those things. ... I'm not saying he's going to be in there (every) down. I never said he's a three-down back. I said he's a good back that can help in the run, in the pass game and in protection. I think McKinnon will still get a lot of carries and we'll go from there."
Murray, who is coming off ankle surgery (ZImmer called it "a clean-up deal"), should be viewed as a low-end No. 2 Fantasy running back at best with his move to Minnesota. And McKinnon is a sleeper to target with a late-round pick because of his receiving ability. McKinnon had 43 catches for 255 yards and two touchdowns last year.
Now that Tony Romo has retired and is no longer an option for the Broncos, it's clear they are going with either Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch as their starting quarterback this year. And new Denver coach Vance Joseph said one player who could help make the passing game great is Demaryius Thomas.
"I want him to be a dominant player all the time," Joseph said. "I don't want him to ease into games. I want him to be a guy. I want him to step out and be a guy. It's time. He's a great player. He can take over a game, but I want his mindset every game to be every game we play to walk on the field and take over the game."
Joseph said he wants to move Thomas around the formation more this year.
"He can play the slot, and he can play outside," Joseph said. "He's a great runner with the football with wide receiver screens. That has been his trademark for years. Catch the screen and go 60 and 70 yards. Having more variety in the offense will help him play better."
Thomas could end up as a bargain on Draft Day in the majority of leagues, and he's worth drafting no later than Round 4 in all formats.
Giants coach Ben McAdoo is looking forward to relying on new receiver Brandon Marshall and his 6-foot-4 frame. Marshall is the closest receiver Eli Manning has had to Plaxico Burress, who was 6-foot-5.
"There are a lot of advantages to having a bigger receiver on the outside," McAdoo said. "You can throw it up, especially with someone like Brandon, with his strength, his catch radius ... He almost didn't fit through my doorway when he came into the building. He's a big man. He's like a tight end body out there. He's a big, strong man, knows how to run the whole tree, and there's a lot of value in that."
Marshall struggled in 2016 with poor quarterback play with the Jets, but Manning will arguably be the best quarterback he's ever had. Although he will be the No. 2 receiver behind Odell Beckham, Marshall is still worth drafting as a low-end No. 2 Fantasy option in Round 5. And he's been great in his first season with his new team in each of his previous two stops with the Bears and Jets, which will hopefully happen again this year.
The last time Kyle Shanahan coached Pierre Garcon was in 2013 with the Redskins when Shanahan was the offensive coordinator, and Garcon had 113 catches for 1,346 yards and five touchdowns. Shanahan is hoping for similar results with the 49ers after Garcon signed a five-year deal worth $47.5 million, including $17 million guaranteed.
"He's playing at a high level," Shanahan said. "I didn't go into free agency saying we need Pierre because I've coached him before. You go into free agency and you study all the free agents who are available and then you stack them and see who can help you team the most. Pierre was at the top of that list. Also knowing him made me feel better about that because you know exactly what you're getting. But it all starts with the tape. It was very encouraging to turn on the tape and watch the level Pierre is still playing at. When you see that on tape and you also know the type of guy (he is) ... I was very excited to get him."
Garcon just finished as the No. 36 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues with the Redskins, but he was No. 12 in 2013 with Shanahan. And Shanahan has a great history of featuring his No. 1 receiver as an offensive coordinator with Andre Johnson in Houston, Garcon in Washington and Julio Jones in Atlanta.
Garcon is a sleeper to target in all leagues with a late-round pick.
McCown, who signed with the Jets this offseason, was part of the quarterback rotation in Cleveland last year that helped Terrelle Pryor develop into a standout Fantasy receiver. He signed as a free agent with the Redskins this offseason, and McCown said Pryor has plenty of room to grow at the position after transitioning from a former quarterback.
"He's just starting out," McCown said. "The sky's the limit for him. He has a tremendous skillset. To do what he did in his first year playing receiver was a tremendous feat. There's more to come from him. I have no doubt. Washington will be very pleased with the player they got."
We view Pryor as a solid No. 2 Fantasy receiver in the majority of leagues, and he's worth drafting in Round 4 in most formats. While he played well last year with McCown, Cody Kessler, Robert Griffin III, Charlie Whitehurst and Kevin Hogan, he gets a significant upgrade with Kirk Cousins at quarterback with the Redskins.
McCown also is excited about the development for second-year receiver Corey Coleman in Cleveland. He said the broken hand that Coleman suffered prior to Week 3 and kept him out for six games "was a bummer."
"You really felt like he could grow in his rookie year," McCown said. "He still will. He's a very determined young player. He has a tremendous skillset. It's just a matter of him learning. That's the biggest thing for Corey. He understands what it's going to take for him to play and keep it going in the league. He learned that this year, and I have no doubt he'll have a great offseason and come back and have a big year."
Coleman is sleeper to target in all Fantasy leagues with a late-round pick, and he could easily emerge as the No. 1 receiver for the Browns this year.
Andrew Luck likes throwing to his tight ends, and his No. 1 tight end is now Jack Doyle after he re-signed as a free agent and Dwayne Allen was traded to New England. Doyle is headed for a breakout year in 2017, and Pagano is excited for his outlook.
"From a leadership standpoint, it's his room now, and he's earned that," Pagano said. "I don't ever have to worry about Jack Doyle. I know exactly where he's going to be. I know he's going to be prepared mentally and physically. Now, I think it's continue to do what he does on the football field for us. The role won't change significantly, but from a leadership standpoint, I think he's going to need to be a little bit more vocal. That will be my challenge to him. He's a very bright guy, but he's a lead by example type of guy. He's been very quiet. He goes about his business, does his job. He's always where's he's supposed to be. He's a check off all the boxes on him. From a vocal standpoint, I think he can take it to the next level."
There's been a good track record in Indianapolis that whenever Allen has been hurt, whether it's Coby Fleener or Doyle, the other guy has stepped up in a big way. That happened again in 2016 when Allen was injured in Week 6 at Houston and missed the next two games. Over those three games, Doyle had 15 catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns on 22 targets.
He's a low-end No. 1 tight end to target with a late-round pick in all formats.
While Allen is one my favorite breakout tight ends this year, Higbee is one of my favorite sleepers. He's in a good spot in his second year with the Rams and playing for new coach Sean McVay, who has a great history with tight ends when he was the offensive coordinator in Washington.
In two years as the playcaller in Washington, McVay's tight ends were fifth in targets (289), fifth in receiving yards (2,397) and tied for third in touchdowns (20) during that time. The majority of that was Jordan Reed, but McVay has high hopes for Higbee this year.
"He is a guy that I really liked coming out of college," McVay said. "He has a natural feel in the pass game. He has a good feel for how to work those seams. He has a big catch radius. ... How we utilize him will be predicated on what we feel his best strengths are. He's going to be different than a Jordan Reed and a Vernon Davis. We have to figure out a way to fit our stuff to Tyler Higbee and make sure we're extenuating his skillset. That's something that's going to be evaluated. He is a guy that we're excited to work with, and we're looking forward to seeing how he competes."
Higbee is only worth a late-round flier in the majority of leagues, but if he goes undrafted then definitely continue to monitor him throughout the season. The Rams need playmakers in the passing game, and Higbee could easily be the No. 1 option for Jared Goff.
The Steelers were hoping Ladarius Green would be a difference maker for them last season, but concussion-related issues limited him to just six games. He's hoping to be 100 percent this season, and Tomlin would love to him healthy and on the field.
"I think his talents speak for themselves, when healthy," Tomlin said. "He was very productive and a big-time asset to us. ... He provided a component to our offense that was much needed. He displayed his ability to stretch the field, and specifically, down the middle. It was an asset to us."
Green had either 60 receiving yards or a touchdown in three of the six games he was able to play, and he's worth a late-round flier if healthy heading into training camp. We'd love to see him back at 100 percent because he has the potential to be a No. 1 Fantasy tight end in all formats.
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