Jay Gruden says he’ll let RGIII ‘be himself’

‘Foolish’ to make RGIII a pocket passer: When Jay Gruden was hired as Washington’s new head coach, the biggest question was what would he do to help Robert Griffin III return to being the dynamic quarterback we saw in 2012. So far, we know one thing Gruden won’t do — confine Griffin to the pocket. The coach says he’d be “be foolish to try to turn RGIII into a pocket passer” and will mold the offense to fit his quarterback’s natural abilities. The biggest question will be whether or not Griffin has learned (or can be taught) to protect himself better on the field. His propensity to take big hits in his first two seasons has led to doubts about his ability to stay healthy long term. Now that he is a full season removed from major knee surgery, he should look more confident running the football. But until questions about his durability have been sufficiently answered, he’ll remain a low QB1 or high QB2 in 2014.

Giants offense to go up-tempo: Allow the New York Giants and new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo to remind us that the NFL is a copycat league. Big Blue’s new O.C. says he plans for the team to run a more up-tempo attack in 2014. Certainly teams like the Broncos, Patriots and Eagles have found success running a more high-speed offense. It’s a move that has Victor Cruz excited, but it will be interesting to see if Eli Manning‘s predilection toward throwing interceptions will make this a viable change. In the meantime, the idea that Cruz, Andre Brown and the rest of the Giants offense could see more snaps will help their draft value. Now if we only knew who the team’s second receiving option was going to be.

Jaguars not counting on Blackmon?: Suspended Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Justin Blackmon will be eligible to apply for reinstatement sometime before the beginning of next season. When that is, however, is unknown. In the meantime, the team reportedly is looking at having the young WR’s presence as a “luxury“. That seems to imply that the Jags aren’t certain Blackmon will be reinstated for the start of 2014 and could start looking for other options to pair with Cecil Shorts. Blackmon’s talent is undeniable, but with two suspensions for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, he has become a major risk.

– Follow Marcas on Twitter @MarcasG


Teams interested in Mark Sanchez, says coach

Could Sanchez start elsewhere?: When Mark Sanchez was lost for the 2013 season due to a shoulder injury, it was widely assumed that he would never play another down for the New York Jets. But it also added some question as to whether he would ever have a shot at another NFL starting quarterback job. According to at least one unnamed coach, the answer is yes. Without knowing who exactly made the statement, it’s hard to get too fired up about it. But when you look around at the dearth of quality starting QBs in the NFL, it’s not a ridiculous idea. But simply the idea of Mark Sanchez once again being a starter shouldn’t excite fantasy owners. In his career, he’s thrown more interceptions (69) than touchdowns (68). Unless he finds himself surrounded by an amazing array of pass-catchers — which seems unlikely — he’ll need to prove himself before he can be considered to have any real value.

Amendola’s injuries hampered production: It seems like an obvious statement, but Danny Amendola’s continued injury issues played into his depressed fantasy totals in 2013. The veteran receiver finished the season ranked just 60th in fantasy points at his position — a far cry from the expectations that he’d replace Wes Welker in the Pats’ pecking order. While it’s probably a fair caveat, it’s also the reason that it will be hard for fantasy owners to take an early shot on Amendola in drafts next season. Over the past three seasons, he’s missed 24 games (out of a possible 48). His ability to play through pain is admirable, but when you’re counting on a player’s production, his best ability is often his availability.

Myers’ status up in the air: When Brandon Myers moved from the Oakland Raiders to the New York Giants, it appeared that the sleeper tight end would be ready to wake up and produce. It didn’t happen in 2013. Some of that is owed to Eli Manning’s erratic season. Some of it can be blamed on Big Blue’s offensive scheme under former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. Now that Ben McAdoo has taken over the OC duties for New York, it will be interesting to see if he agrees with Gilbride’s assessment that Myers is a No. 2 tight end. Regardless, after falling out of the top 15 among fantasy tight ends, Myers should best be left at the tail end of draft boards — if at all.

– Follow Marcas on Twitter @MarcasG


LeGarrette Blount could confound Pats RB situation

Blount wants to return to NE: It’s not a surprise that LeGarrette Blount says he’d like to return to the New England Patriots backfield in 2014. However, if the veteran running back is back with the Pats next season, it creates an interesting conundrum for fantasy enthusiasts. With Blount added to a healthy Shane VereenStevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden, there won’t be nearly enough touches to go around. Add in Bill Belichick’s propensity to frequently rotate his running backs and this committee has the potential to be highly-frustrating next season. That doesn’t mean you should avoid any of those backs. But you’ll want to draft a couple more consistent running back options before you give the Patriots crew a look.

Lance Moore out in New Orleans?: As the New Orleans Saints prepare for the offseason, the Times-Picayune notes that Lance Moore has a salary cap number of $5.1 million — a big number for a player who saw his spot on the depth chart challenged by the much more budget-friendly Kenny Stills. Moore, who turns 31 in August, has posted just one 1,000-yard season  in his eight-year career. Wherever he will be hard-pressed to become anything more than a No. 3 or 4 wide receiver on the depth chart. It’s hard to envision him being drafted in many fantasy leagues next season.

QB changes coming in Cleveland: After yet another season of frustration, the Cleveland Browns are likely to overhaul their quarterback situation … again. With talk that the team is heavily targeting Johnny Manziel, it doesn’t bode well for the likes of Jason Cambpell and Brandon Weeden. Whoever the quarterback is, hopefully he’ll be smart enough to target Josh Gordon frequently. Don’t look for the wide receiver’s value to take a hit considering the success he had with a myriad of signal-callers throwing him the football. As for the draft value of Cleveland’s next starting quarterback — it’ll all depend on who that player is.

– Follow Marcas on Twitter @MarcasG


Harvin ruled out for NFC title game

Still on the shelf: Percy Harvin is still dealing with concussion symptoms — among other ailments — and has been ruled out for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.
Harvin didn’t practice even once this past week because he didn’t pass concussion protocol. The only chance we’d possibly have of seeing Harvin again would be in the Super Bowl if Seattle makes it that far. For this week, fill your roster with others from the Playoff Challenge Roster.

Bess case: Davone Bess was arrested for assaulting a police officer Friday morning at the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Airport. Bess hAs been making the news for all the wrong reasons lately, and there’s a fairly good chance he won’t be with the Browns in 2014. I can’t imagine he’d have much fantasy value unless hw went to a pass-happy offense that found a way to work him in.

Sam I am: Sam Bradford is recovering from a torl ACL, but he is confident he’ll be ready for the start of training camp. I think the Rams really meant it when they said they’d give Bradford another chance to prove himself. The Rams are in urgent need upgrades at positions other than quarterback, which is why I think they won’t take a QB if they stick around at No. 2 in the draft. The biggest boost to Bradford’s fantasy value could be a bookend offensive tackle.


Good news or bad news for Doug Martin?

Run, baby: New Bucs OC Jeff Tedford likes to spread the wealth in the backfield, as he made no secret of his plans to use multiple running backs in Tampa Bay’s gameplans in an effort to keep personnel fresh. The Bucs don’t really have a franchise quarterback, so Tedford is probably wanting to implement a running game to compensate for that. It’s too early to tell if Doug Martin’s fantasy value will take a hit, although Mike James likely played well enough at times in 2013 to earn himself some carries this coming year.

Moving on: More reports continue to emerge that suggest RB Chris Johnson won’t be with the Titans next season. He’s looking for a mega deal that many teams won’t be willing to give after two straight subpar seasons as well as a league-wide shift towards building a passing attack. Some team will pick him up, and he is still a very capable back when he’s motivated and healthy. Depending on where his change of scenery lands him, he could be a decent fantasy bargain in 2014.

Crab claw: Michael Crabtree is practicing this week despite dealing with a lingering wrist injury. Crabtree’s injury came in the first quarter of a very hard-hitting divisional playoff game between the Niners and Panthers last Saturday. For those of you chasing after Playoff Challenge perfection, this shouldn’t deter you from starting him. Crabtree didn’t leave last week’s game and should play the full 60 in Seattle this week.


Megatron undergoing some major repairs

Tune up: So, yo know how Megatron had offseason knee surgery? Turns out that wasn’t all he had worked on. Calvin Johnson is also recovering from a finger operation, which may explain some of the inexplicable drops he had late in the season which he’d usually grab in his sleep. Both the finger and knee operations were done to correct issues which go back well before this season. He has missed just six games in his seven-year career, so he may have been running a couple quarts low for some time now. Heaven help opposing secondaries if he comes out even stronger and more fit than usual.

Back in action? Kenbrell Thompkins has been officially diagnosed with a concussion, which is why he was limited in practice on Wednesday. Thompkins hasn’t registered a catch in any game since December 1st, although if he is listed as limited in practice, chances are we’ll see him this Sunday. Will he be an active target, though? I wouldn’t take the chance in my Playoff Challenge lineup.

Making up? All the animosity between Terrelle Pryor and the Raiders seems to have taken a turn torwards reconciliation as Pryor has fired agent Jerome Stanley. Stanley somehow believed the Raiders were intentionally trying to get Pryor to fail, but he was pretty productive as a dual-threat at times early in the regular season. Many expect the Raiders to go QB shopping with the fifth pick in the draft, although I’m not entirely convinced they don’t give Pryor one more go of it in 2014.


Mike Zimmer has work to build Vikings fantasy viability

The Minnesota Vikings filled their head coaching position Wednesday, hiring Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to fill the vacancy left by the firing of Leslie Frazier. The move seems to point to Minnesota’s need to shore up a defense that finished the 2013 season last in yardage and points allowed. Of course, it will take more than a head coaching change to improve a unit that was abysmal last season. Keep an eye on what the Vikings do both in the draft and free agency.

On the offensive side, much of Minnesota’s value will depend on what Zimmer decides to do with the offensive coordinator position. There is little doubt that the offense will continue to run through Adrian Peterson with occasional bursts of Cordarrelle Patterson. However, look for the team to upgrade at the quarterback position this offseason. There’s a lot of work to be done to give the Vikings offense more widespread fantasy credibility. Zimmer will have a lot of work to do.

– Follow Marcas on Twitter @MarcasG


Jim Caldwell’s top job: Corralling Matt Stafford

After missing out on making Ken Whisenhunt their head coach, the Detroit Lions moved quickly to lock up Jim Caldwell as the man to take over the franchise.

Caldwell has spent the past season and a half as the offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, helping the team to a victory in Super Bowl XLVII. During that championship run, Caldwell re-emphasized the running game with Ray Rice, although it was Joe Flacco’s on-point passing that was the biggest story of Baltimore’s post-season success. This year, the Ravens’ offensive line woes led to major struggles in the rushing game — as any Ray Rice fantasy owner can attest. As such, a larger burden was placed on Flacco and the results were mixed.

Of course, this won’t be Caldwell’s first go-round as a head coach. He led the Indianapolis Colts from 2009-2011 after the departure of Tony Dungy. In his first season at the helm, Caldwell led Indy to a 14-2 record and an ultimate loss in the Super Bowl. The next season, the Colts finished 10-6 with a first-round playoff loss to the Jets. Things weren’t quite so rosy in 2011 when Peyton Manning missed the entire season with neck surgery and Indianapolis finished 2-14.

Now Caldwell heads to Detroit where he will once again find himself in charge of a pass-first offense. It would seem to bode well for Matthew Stafford to have Caldwell now on his side. The biggest question will be whether the coach can curb the quarterback’s sometimes-reckless ways in the pocket. In his final six games in 2013, Stafford threw 11 interceptions compared to just eight touchdowns. That was bad news for fantasy owners and even worse news for the Lions, who lost seven of their final eight games to miss the playoffs.

As goes Stafford, so goes the Lions offense. That means the success of the quarterback will have a direct impact on the fantasy fortunes of Calvin JohnsonReggie BushJoique Bell (if he returns to Detroit) and others. For now, Stafford remains a QB1 in most leagues, but it will be interesting to see what influence Caldwell has on him.

– Follow Marcas on Twitter @MarcasG


Whisenhunt will improve Titans’ fantasy production

Ken Whisenhunt becomes the 17th head coach in Tennessee Titans franchise history on Thursday, and of the remaining candidates with head coaching experience, he was considered the best of the bunch. The Vikings and Browns remain the only teams without a head coach.

Whisenhunt served as the offensive coordinator this past season with the Chargers. Before that, he won a franchise-record 49 games during his time with the Arizona Cardinals and also took the team to its first ever Super Bowl appearance. The Titans have spent plenty of money and also a high draft pick in 2013 to try to upgrade their offensive line, so if Russ Grimm comes on board as a coordinator, you have to like Chris Johnson’s chances of improving his poor 2013 numbers — assuming he sticks around.

It’ll also be interesting to see whether Whisenhunt will decide to try to better Tennessee’s quarterback production by sticking with Jake Locker or possibly looking to the draft. When he has a capable quarterback to work with, Whiz can get results. Check out Kurt Warner’s numbers under Whisenhunt’s first three seasons in Arizona:

3.417 yards, 27 TDs
4.583 yards, 30 TDs
3.753 yards, 26 TDs

The first year was Warner’s lowest of the three, but part of that probably had to do with learning Whisenhunt’s new offensive system,

Until the decision is made on which direction the Titans will go at quarterback, all we really have to go on is Whisenhunt’s history. He’s going to implement a tougher-than-you attitude among the Titans roster that they really didn’t have under Mike Munchak. Of all the off-season coaching hires, this is probably the biggest upgrade to both the team and the potential fantasy production of the offense.


Reason to believe in E.J. Manuel for 2014?

Sling it! Bills coach Doug Marrone recently said the Bills plan to expand Buffalo’s passing attack in 2014. Only eight teams attempted fewer passes than the Bills last year, but no team had more rushing attempts. The results were pretty poor — the team only reached the 30-point mark in two of their 16 regular season games in 2013 and were held at 24 or under the rest of the time. “We would like to be able to take more shots, throw it more on first down and become more productive from the standpoint of scoring,” said Marrone. Hmm. Does E.J. Manuel’s fantasy value get an uptick?


Not his year: Coach Pete Carroll said the Seahawks won’t know Percy Harvin’s status for the NFC Championship gzame until Wednesday or Thursday. After missing the huge majority of the regular season, Harvin is in the concussion protocol after getting blasted by Saints safety Rafael Bush. It just seems like Harvin is destined not to be an effective player this year. If you were thinking Playoff Challenge sleeper … well, I can’t blame you. Your next step is to think again and look elswhere.


Outdated fad: Bengals OC Hue Jackson hinted he may try to persuade the team to chase after Darren McFadden in free agency. The Bengals have already expressed some desire to run the ball more effectively in 2014, but there are two huge obstacles standing in the way — Giovani Bernard seems poised to make the leap to fantasy freak, and McFadden doesn’t seem capable of pouring himself a glass of water without picking up some kind of major injury. Even if McFadden does land in Cincy, it’s not going to help his fantasy value. I’ll pass.


Gio’s value just got a tremendous boost

Rush hour: New Bengals OC Hue Jackson said, “In order to win, we have to run the ball.” That certainly means good news for Giovani Bernard’s fantasy value in 2014. The Bengals ran the ball plenty in 2013, although a good percentage of those can be attributed to their having a large lead over an opponent and wanting to wind down the clock. The problem is their yards per carry (3.6) was very low, and when Jackson knows he’s going to need to improve on that number if he wants to be able to ride his running game throughout the season as opposed to just in mop-up time. I’m starting to wonder if Gio might be knocking on the door of Round 1 in 2014 drafts.

Wanna go outside? Packers WRs coach Edgar Bennett sasid he expects Randall Cobb to see more time outside in 2014 after he ran a huge majority of his snaps from the slot position last season. Depending on the defensive formations he sees, this should give Cobb more opportunities to make plays if he faces more one-on-one coverages as opposed to running routes over the middle in heavy traffic. Right now, Cobb is a very solid WR2. He could be even better than that next season. This might be one of those rare situations where a player’s preseason production could give a glimpse into what he’ll do once the real bullets start flying in September.

We already knew: In what should come as no surprise to anyone, Redskins coach Jay Gruden declared Robert Griffin III will be his starting quarterback, and there will be no competition for the spot. Kirk Cousins looked a lot better in 2012 than he did in 2013, and while his trade value took a big hit, at least the Redskins have a potentially capable backup in case their starter goes down again.


Time to do some scouting on Harvin for 2014

Save for later: Percy Harvin, who has been struggling with a hip injury since … forever, it seems … remained “full” in Thursday’s practice, and claims he expects to be active for the Divisional Round. Seahawks coach Pete Carrol also said Harvin wouldn’t be on a snap count. The good news is if Harvin really is healthy, you can tune into this game and do a little fantasy scouting for his potential next season, which lies anywhere between WR1 and WR3.

Help wanted: Steve Smith is still battling knee issues and downgraded his health from 71 percent to 57 percent after Thursday’s practice (well, then). Smith has been listed as “limited” for pretty much the entire week. His health could have a huge impact on the outcome of this game, but I’m starting to wonder if Smith is even going to be a draftable option at all next season. The Panthers are going to be desperate for help at WR in 2014. Brandon Lafell, do you think you can step up and produce?

For the birds: Impending free agent WR Andre Roberts is expected to test the free agency market this summer, and chances are the Cards won’t be able to afford to match a sizeable deal if another team offers him one. Roberts had just two touchdown receptions all year long and never broke 100 yards in a game, but his play still hints that he could become a dangerous playmaker. If he lands in the right situation, he’s one of the earlier entries for your 2014 sleeper lists.


Can Johnny Football be productive right away?

Going Pro:  So, Johnny Manziel will be playing on Sundays this coming autumn. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but there will be a lot of mystery surrounding his fantasy status. Not many rookie QBs step into the league and start throwing for big yardage and touchdowns from day one. RGIII and Andrew Luck were two of the most hyped quarterbacks to come out in some time. The former was either feast or famine while the latter was steadily mediocre. A lot of Johnny Football’s fantasy value will obviously have to do with where he lands, and to further complicate things, he may even go to a team that doesn’t currently have a head coach in place. Still, there has never been anyone quite like him in my opinion. The best way I can describe it is to imagine Wes Welker playing QB. Stay tuned. This one is going to be fun.

Stay a while: The Chiefs are reportedly looking to extend Alex Smith’s contract this offseason since he’s set to begin the final year of his deal. He certainly helped the Chiefs to a dramatic nine-win turnaround from a year ago, and the Chiefs offense can’t be blamed in the wild card round loss whent hey hung more than 40 points on Indianapolis. Smith seems like he’s found a happy home in K.C. though, setting new career-highs in passing yards (3,313) and passing touchdowns (23) in 2013. If the two sides can strike a deal, it should help stabilize K.C.’s offense for the next few seasons while keeping them consistently productive.

Best foot forward: Ryan Mathews had a huge role in San Diego’s win at Denver a few weeks ago, but an ankle injury has kept him out of practice Wednesday. Missing mid-week practices isn’t cause for a great deal of concern, but it’s fair to assume those of you who are planning to select Mathews for your Playoff Challenge rosters would likely want him at 100 percent. Mathews claimed he’ll be good to go this week, so take it for what it’s worth and keep an eye on the situation.


Will Smith be able to go against the 49ers?

Bird home: A recent report in The Arizona Republic confirms Carson Palmer is expected to remain Arizona’s starting QB in 2014. Even though Drew Stanton is listed as the backup, I still wouldn’t rule out Arizona drafting a strong young QB of the future to groom — even in Round 1 — should one fall in their laps. Anyhow, the downslope of Palmer’s career has been underway for some time now. The Cardinals offense was certainly better off having Palmer under center than had they decided to stick with their 2012 QB crop, but Palmer was either dazzling or depressing to watch … sometimes even both in the same game. His fantasy value is kind of like one of those hand-me-down cars you received and just hope to squeeze another few thousand miles out of before making a big purchase.

He gone: Rumors are rumbling that Dallas WR Miles Austin could become a cap casualty sometime this summer. The Cowboys need to do some work to have cap flexibility this offseason. After posting enormous numbers in 2009, Jerry Jones handed Austin a huge contract, and he hasn’t been nearly as productive since. Austin still might have some fantasy value if he catches on with the right team. File this one away to monitor this coming summer.

For better or worse: For those of you still questing after Playoff Challenge dominance, Steve Smith is dealing with a knee issue and said there’s a 60 percent chance he’ll play this Sunday against the 49ers. Smith has been sidelined since spraining his PCL in Week 16. If he can’t go, then that will be a huge blow to Carolian’s chances of advancing. Smith hasn’t been a productive fantasy wideout in some time now, and the WR position has to be Carolina’s top upgrade priority this offseason. Even if he does play, I’m leaving Smith off my Playoff Challenge roster.


Looking ahead at some WR contracts in 2014

Let’s talk: DeSean Jackson had a career-year in Chip Kelly’s offense, reversing a four-season decline by setting career highs in catches (82) and yards (1,332) to go along with nine touchdown catches. Now, he’d like to improve his compensation for doing so. Despite having two years left on his current deal with the Eagles, Jackson is seeking to negotiate something more lucrative. Will the Eagles consider it?

Tip your cap: Speaking of wide receivers and contracts, there are some rumblings that Bills wideout Stevie Johnson could become a cap casualty and hit the free agent market himself. The Bills are less than enthusiastic about swallowing an $8.5 million cap hit for a player who seems to just flat out disappear more often than not. A great deal of his fantasy value in 2014 will be determined by where he ends up, but I just can’t envision him ever becoming a consistent receiving option each week.

Too cool for Brees? The Saints may have won their Wild Card game in Philly this past weekend, but Drew Brees was hardly his usual self, going 20 for 30 for 250 yards, one score and two picks. Mark Ingram took over for the injured Pierre Thomas and contributed in a big way, logging 18 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown. New Orleans may face similarly chilly weather in Seattle this wee, and it wasn’t too long ago when the Seahawks curb stomped the Saints at home on a Monday night, completely shutting down Brees in the process. Ingram is a solid playoff challenge roster candidate, so if you start him this weekend, you can probably expect him to at least get a similar number of carries.

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