Any target list at this time of year is conditional. Last year Marques Colston was one of the players I wrote the most about during the summer. But all it took was a training camp foot injury for me to take him off my last WR target list. After he was off my target list I drafted him in a total of zero leagues.
I’ll be paying attention to a lot of training camp developments this year looking for similar clues. Here are five things I’m going to pay attention during training camps in 2014.
1. Will Ladarius Green get his chance to star this year?
Matt Rittle has said that the ADPs of Green and Antonio Gates don’t make any sense right now. That’s true if some kind of a 50/50 TE timeshare is coming. But if the Chargers look like they’re going to unleash Green then he’s a screaming bargain at TE10. Right now we really don’t know which way this will go but we’re probably going to start getting clues during the preseason.
Some have said that Ladarius Green reminds them of Jared Cook. I can actually see that. But I think it’s important to consider the fact that whether and how a team uses a player like Green or Cook is really up to the team. Green easily has the talent to become a monster in the NFL. It’s just a matter of whether the Chargers decide he fits into their game plan. Last year they didn’t think he did, despite the fact that he seemed to score almost every time he touched the ball.
But you should definitely be a realist as it relates to Green. Talent isn’t enough if the coaches won’t feature him. It would be if he had a free draft cost, but that’s not the case anymore.
2. Will the Dolphins be running the Chip Kelly system in 2014?
Bill Lazor comes to the Dolphins after being the Eagles’ QB coach in 2013. But that’s his only year in the Chip Kelly system. He has prior connections to Mike Holmgren and Joe Gibbs. So I do wonder whether he’ll be bringing the full Kelly offense, or rather whether he’ll just incorporate some of the same concepts into what he already knows. Because a running QB probably has benefits that ripple throughout the offense, if Lazor does run Kelly’s scheme then all of the Dolphins are probably underrated. They’re all cheap enough that you can pick them and you’re not paying for any of the upside.
If we do get a good feeling about the offense that Lazor installs then Mike Wallace is probably my favorite target. He’s cheap enough now that he could represent value in 2014 regardless of scheme. But if he gets to run around in an offense that excels at creating space for players, I would be all in.
You might ask why I would have any doubt that Lazor will install Kelly’s scheme. Well what if the Dolphins front office said “We like the Kelly scheme, but we have a young QB that we spent a high draft pick on. Let’s not get him killed”? That would be a wrinkle that I think would devalue all of the Dolphins pieces.
How will you know what to expect from the Dolphins? That might actually be tough to know. I think the key part of the offense when it comes to creating space is the QB running/read option component. The Dolphins might actually be careful about showing that in the preseason. But right now the broad assumption is that Lazor is installing the Kelly scheme, so I think we have good reason to at least tend to believe that. It shouldn’t take a lot of additional evidence during the preseason to figure this one out.
3. Will Jordan Matthews start from day one in PHI?
If I thought Matthews was going to start week one for the Eagles it would make it pretty easy to choose which Eagles pass catcher to own in 2014. Jeremy Maclin is the most expensive and is coming off ACL surgery. If he were the cheapest, I wouldn’t be scared of the ACL. But since he’s the most expensive, I am. Riley Cooper could have decent upside, but he might also be a tweener. In the part of the draft you have to pick him, I think there will still be some true number one receivers available. So he’s somewhere between a volume based bargain and a late round flier with high upside.
Then there’s Jordan Matthews. He has the best physical profile among the Eagles pass catchers. He has the best combination of college production and draft pedigree of their pass catchers. He’s also probably going to get to operate out of the slot, which is like getting training wheels right off the bat. Oh, and he’s going in the 11th round.
To be clear though, this only works if he’s starting. If he’s not starting then you’re just rolling the dice on a late round flier that may or may not work out. That’s not the kind of risk that I like to take. I want an unfair advantage.
4. Will Devonta Freeman work his way into the #2 RB spot on the Atlanta depth chart?
During draft season we probably weren’t very high on Freeman. But I have a short memory as it relates to running backs, so even if I wrote at some point that he was a low upside plodder with a plow hooked to his belt, I probably wouldn’t hold that against Freeman. Steven Jackson is probably a decent bargain based on his ADP as well as his role as a nominal starter. But he probably shouldn’t be buying any green bananas either. If Freeman can pass Jacquizz Rodgers on the depth chart then I think there’s a decent chance that he could be worth a late flier in a Zero RB draft strategy. He didn’t catch a ton of passes in college, but he’s reportedly an able pass catcher and a good pass blocker as well. If I did end up targeting Freeman it would be mostly due to opportunity in ATL.
5. What will the RB depth chart in Indianapolis look like?
The last time we saw Trent Richardson, he was compiling four total touches during the Colts playoff run. That’s not very encouraging for a player that should have been “getting it” more as the season went along. But his competition in IND is also pretty suspect. The workmanlike Vick Ballard is coming back from ACL surgery. Ahmad Bradshaw is the Black Knight. He’s not far from threatening to bleed on tacklers. So there’s opportunity for someone to have value in 2014. It could even be Richardson. But this is definitely a situation where we need additional clarity. We have to get some sense as to whether the coaching staff has changed its attitude that essentially led to Richardson’s benching in the playoffs. If they haven’t changed that attitude we need some sense as to who could carry the ball for the Colts in 2014.
I don’t think it does you any good to just write off Richardson going forward. But he also might be a trap even in the 5th round if he’s going to just disappear again in 2014. So we need to pay attention to what happens in training camp. I would have a very difficult time making any season long plans that included Ahmad Bradshaw. Maybe the thing to root for in IND is for an explosive (ish) looking Vick Ballard to show up. He might represent the best combination of cost and upside.
But in any case these are all things that we need to see play out. We don’t know enough today to make informed decisions.