Editor’s Note: This article is written by a new writer for DLF – Benton McDonald. We’re excited to have Benton and look forward to seeing his work here in the future!
After a long off-season filled with way too much talk on deflated balls, the NFL season is nearly upon us. And while we dynasty owners stay in football mode 365 days a year, these next few months mean it’s time to kick it into high gear. And what better way to begin that then with a month filled with hot takes, preseason DFS and best of all, training camp. Training camp is a time for us to iron out our dynasty rosters for the season, participate in a home league with our best friends (PSA: you should be in one of these) and watch as NFL teams sort out the depth chart questions we have had all off-season. The following five situations are ones I will be monitoring closely during training camp for their impact on dynasty teams both positive and negative.
1.) The Dallas Cowboys starting running back
Ever since DeMarco Murray left for division rival Philadelphia in March, the Cowboys have been left pondering what to do at the running back position. The team currently has five backs on their roster entering training camp – Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar, Lache Seastrunk and Gus Wilson. Randle, the third year back out of Oklahoma State enters camp as the number one back despite only having 105 career regular season carries. McFadden, the only free agent running back signed by Dallas, enters camp with easily the most experience on the team and easily the most injuries. While only missing more than four games twice in his seven-year career, he has also only played 16 games once and eclipsed 200 carries just twice. At full strength, McFadden has a potential RB1 season with the Dallas offensive line but injuries and a lack of production the last three years (3.3, 3.3 and 3.4 YPC) make him a major question mark. Dunbar is the wild card of the group. A popular sleeper last year, he only saw 29 carries behind Murray and Randle but posted an impressive 18 catches on 20 targets from Tony Romo. Already guaranteed a roster spot, he has a chance to offer a Shane Vereen-type receiving role if the Cowboys choose to go with a three headed committee. Seastrunk, a sixth round pick who was waived in training camp by Washington looks to be a camp body at this point and has little shot at making the roster. The Cowboys signed Wilson, an UDFA out of Stephen F. Austin, right before training camp after they released Ryan Williams. A high upside signing, Wilson will be someone dynasty owners should keep a tab on during training camp.
My prediction: The cowboys go with a three headed monster at running back, with Randle covering the bulk of the carries with McFadden offering whatever he has left and Dunbar taking a Shane Vereen-lite role with high receiving upside.
2.) The Miami Dolphins receiving depth chart
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The Dolphins entered the off-season with Mike Wallace and Jarvis Landry penciled in as their starting receivers and now come into training camp with Landry, Greg Jennings, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills. Landry, the sophomore receiver who posted an impressive 84-catch rookie year, is downplayed slightly due to his low number of yards (758) and the play of another rookie receiver with the initials OBJ. Coming into camp as the only receiver with a season in the offense, Landry looks to be the locked in number one target for Ryan Tannehill and should post another reception heavy season. The next three spots are where fantasy value for this upcoming season is up for grabs. Jennings, entering his tenth season in the NFL, was signed by Miami to a two-year, $8 million deal this off-season. At age 31, a career decline is in progress as evident by the two years he spent in Minnesota. Jennings still holds the versatility to play both the inside and outside spots at receiver, something the other three lack. That, coupled with his track record, considerable signing bonus and year one salary he signed for, point to a considerable role in the offense. Stills, the third year receiver the Dolphins traded for in March is in an interesting spot. A player who has carved out a role as primarily a deep threat is going to one of the worst deep ball quarterbacks in the league. An improved route tree and maintaining his superb efficiency may point to a productive season for Stills but the competition for targets looks like it is going to push Stills out of the conversation. And finally, we have DeVante Parker. After trading for Stills and signing Jennings, Miami surprised some by drafting Parker #13 overall. An off-season foot surgery has Parker beginning the season on the active/PUP list but coach Joe Philbin expects him to be ready for week one. A slow integration is expected, so don’t look to Parker the first few weeks of the season.
My prediction: Landry starts in the slot with Jennings next to him and Stills across the field. Parker, the most talented receiver of the bunch slowly pushes his way into a starting job as we see 31-year-old Greg Jennings slowly fade away.
3.) The Seattle Seahawks third running back spot
While this may seem like an extremely random position battle to watch, dynasty value hangs in the air because of it. And that value is Christine Michael. When I first started playing dynasty in 2013, he was the epitome of what I saw the major difference of dynasty and redraft leagues. A third string player on a team with an already elite running back that saw himself being drafted as high as the fourth round in startups the last two years. The age, situation and most prominently, the metrics on Michael gave him a rising value for nearly two years until now. After two NFL seasons and 52 NFL carries, he is rumored to be on the roster bubble. Seemingly never earning his coaches trust through two years and murmurs he has character concerns, Michael is in jeopardy of getting cut. Add this in with the fact that Pete Carroll and the Seattle coaching stiff reportedly “Love” UDFA Thomas Rawls out of Central Michigan. According to an ESPN report, the staff in Seattle “See Rawls as a bruising runner similar to Marshawn Lynch.”
My prediction: Christine Michael see’s himself either get cut or traded. Still 24 with a 4.88 career YPC, he manages to land on his feet with a new team and his dynasty price sees little or no change. Thomas Rawls gains some traction becoming a nice deep flier in deep leagues, but is still the third string back on a team with Marshawn Lynch carrying the load.
4.) The Buffalo Bills quarterback competition
If the Bills can figure out their quarterback situation, they have a legitimate shot at making the Super Bowl. The problem is all three of their quarterbacks are extremely mediocre at best. Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel and Tyrod Taylor are all coming into camp with a legitimate shot at the starting job under new coach Rex Ryan. Cassel, the 33-year-old journeyman who was traded for this off-season seems like the plug and play choice to start. And while no one should put much stock into OTA workouts, the reports out of Buffalo of Cassel having a “horrific” day make it clear this is a three horse race. Manuel, the first round pick who has only played in 16 of 32 games through two years offers a logical choice as the starter. Entering his third NFL season, the first with LeSean McCoy and second with Sammy Watkins, Manuel should make strides that establish him if nothing else a consistent starter for the Bills. And then there’s Taylor. The same age as Manuel with two more years of NFL experience, he has yet to start an NFL game. The biggest thing I came upon in my brief interweb search on Taylor was a report out of the ESPN saying Rex Ryan “handpicked” the mobile quarterback. “I actually tried to trade for [Taylor] when I was with the Jets,” Ryan said back in May, via com. “If he’s not the fastest quarterback in the league, he’s certainly up there with them. He’s got great run skills. I’m not gonna say he’s Russell Wilson, but he’s got a little of that in him, where he’s able to run zone reads and pull the ball down and be effective.” Adding to the narrative, new Buffalo offensive coordinator worked with a similar quarterback back in San Francisco named Colin Kaepernick.
My prediction: I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Tyrod Taylor wins the job. Having Rex Ryan behind him along with what seems to be a declining Matt Cassel and up and down, often-injured EJ Manuel, this is Taylor’s perfect shot. And while Taylor may win the starting job, his main job will be giving the ball to McCoy. I would project him as a QB3 with decent upside out of the gate.
5.) The Lions starting running back
After losing Reggie Bush to free agency, the Lions are now down to two candidates to take the lead back role – 28-year old Joique Bell and their second round draft pick, Ameer Abdullah. Bell, the fifth year back, finally got a shot at a lead back load last year carrying the ball 223 times for a meager 860 yards (3.9 YPC). Off-season knee and Achilles surgeries have Bell coming into camp not 100 percent but still ready to play and fight for his job. Abdullah, the SPARQ phenom with second round draft capital and a clean injury history is looking to swipe the job away from Bell. He had an extremely productive college career which saw him post three consecutive seasons of 1,100 plus yards and a YPC greater than five during that span. Elite college production coupled with insane metrics point to a quality NFL back.
My prediction: Bell limps into camp but is still able to fend of Abdullah for now. The two form a one-two punch similar to the Bush and Bell combos we’ve seen the last few years in Detroit. While we cannot predict injuries, Bell is almost certain to get nicked up at some point. Abdullah will get his shot and if he can run with it, watch out.
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