As we put July in the rearview mirror, fans of the NFL and particularly those of fantasy football will start focusing on training camps and the upcoming preseason. A great deal of fantasy-relevant subplots will be taking shape in August, and savvy faux footballers will be taking notes. As it all gets underway, here are the top ten August storylines that I will be monitoring closely in the coming weeks. As always, the best way to keep up with these and other fantasy football developments is with one of our Premium Memberships.
1. Quarterback Competitions
The most compelling QB battle is taking place in Philadelphia, where mad scientist Chip Kelly could turn Michael Vick back into a fantasy star. Or maybe he’ll make Nick Foles a star. But surely he’s not going to try to make Matt Barkley a star… is he?!? Vick is the odds-on favorite, but this is a situation that should be monitored closely, as the winner will immediately become a compelling QB2 with upside in Kelly’s potentially-potent offense.
There are a number of additional quarterback competitions that are worth monitoring from a fantasy perspective. A Chad Henne-led passing game in Jacksonville is probably better for Cecil Shorts and the rest of the Jaguars skill players. The choice to go with a rookie signal caller by either the Jets or Bills would have fantasy ramifications. Even Oakland could get in on the act if Tyler Wilson or (gulp) Terrelle Pryor were to challenge presumptive starter Matt Flynn.
2. Other Position Battles
Quarterbacks won’t be the only ones fighting for starter’s reps this August. Some of the more compelling competitions could be waged for the lead running back jobs in Denver and St. Louis. Many were quick to anoint Montee Ball as the next big thing when the Broncos selected him in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft, but Ronnie Hillman is giving him a run for his money thus far. Meanwhile, the Rams have named Daryl Richardson the starter for now, but rookie Zac Stacy and the one-game-suspended Isaiah Pead will be lurking.
Wide receivers will also be jockeying for position over the next month. The aforementioned Rams have a lot of young talent (Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, and Brian Quick, to name a few), but who is going to step up and be “the man” for Sam Bradford? Who will be Tom Brady’s second option behind Danny Amendola in New England? Will someone rise to the occasion opposite Torrey Smith in Baltimore now that Anquan Boldin is gone? Who exactly is Oakland’s number one receiver? Enquiring fantasy minds want to know.
3. The Sophomore Slump
With the level of success that rookie quarterbacks enjoyed in 2012 – both in terms of NFL wins and fantasy statistics – it’s easy to project the likes of Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, and Andrew Luck as top-10 options for this season. But with a limited professional resume and the impact of injuries and personnel departures, it will be interesting to see if these young guns continue to make a run at the top quarterback tier, or if they regress at all in year two.
Rookie running backs also burst onto the scene a year ago, with Alfred Morris being the most surprising of a group that included first-round NFL draft picks Trent Richardson and Doug Martin. Each of these players will cost you an early fantasy pick in 2013, so be sure that their first-year success is seemingly carrying over to this season. And what about receivers like T.Y. Hilton or the suspended duo of Justin Blackmon and Josh Gordon? Keep in mind that guys like Michael Clayton have captivated us before with breakout rookie years, only to disappoint in subsequent seasons.
Every fantasy owner loves the untested promise of NFL rookies and you’ll get a ton of training camp news about how quickly QB X is picking up the system, how well RB Y is pass protecting, and how clean WR Z is running routes. The recent success of first-year quarterbacks might lead you to draft E.J. Manuel or Geno Smith in 2013, but make sure you are tracking their development in August before you pull the trigger, and don’t assume every season will have a Luck, Griffin, or Wilson.
Running backs typically offer the greatest rookie fantasy potential and 2013 probably won’t be any different. Teams spent early draft picks on players like Montee Ball, Le’Veon Bell, Eddie Lacy, and Giovani Bernard, presumably with the intent of getting them involved early and often. As noted above, keep an eye on position battles during the preseason. And don’t rule out a later-round draft pick or even an undrafted free agent. Guys like Joseph Randle (DAL), Christian Michael (SEA), and Latavius Murray (OAK) are potentially just an injury away from considerable playing time.
Receivers are often the rookies that come out of nowhere, simply because of the sheer number of wide outs that see the field on a weekly basis. Tavon Austin, DeAndre Hopkins, and Cordarelle Patterson are the big names from the draft, but don’t rule out someone like Aaron Dobson, who could get a chance to start right away for the Patriots. Other rookie receivers to monitor in August include Robert Woods (BUF), Justin Hunter (TEN), Terrance Williams (DAL), Markus Wheaton (PIT), and Kenny Stills (NO). And don’t forget about tight ends like Tyler Eifert in Cincinnati and Zach Ertz in Philadelphia.
5. Old Faces in New Places
A change of scenery can sometimes do wonders for a player’s fantasy outlook. Such is the case with someone like Steven Jackson, who moves from St. Louis to a considerably better offense in Atlanta. Given what Jackson has done on poor Rams teams and what a limited Michael Turner did for the Falcons, Jackson’s ADP is justifiably on the rise. Reggie Bush is another running back that may find himself in a perfect situation, as his speed and pass catching ability should fit well with the offensive game plan in Detroit. Depending on his health, Ahmad Bradshaw is another veteran running back on a new team that could have fantasy value.
The highest profile change of the offseason probably came at the receiver position, with Wes Welker moving from New England to Denver. Welker is currently be drafted as the number-two option in the Broncos passing attack, but keep an eye on August developments for additional clarity on the allocation of passes between he, Demaryius Thomas, and Eric Decker. Welker’s primary replacement with the Patriots, Danny Amendola, is also a player to watch this preseason, as are guys like Mike Wallace in Miami, Greg Jennings in Minnesota, and Anquan Boldin in San Francisco. Tight end also offers a variety of fantasy-relevant veterans on new teams, most notably Jared Cook (StL), Martellus Bennett (CHI), and Brandon Myers (NYG).
This year’s quarterback changes don’t have nearly the intrigue of Peyton Manning’s move to Denver last season, but that doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been fantasy-relevant action on that front. Carson Palmer should be in a better position for himself with Arizona, and Cardinals receivers will also appreciate the upgrade from a year ago. And while Alex Smith isn’t a world-beater, he’s still a dramatic improvement over what Chiefs receivers saw in 2012.
6. Offensive Scheme Changes
Eight teams made head coaching changes in the offseason, and five additional teams will be breaking in new offensive coordinators in 2013. While some of those changes will likely bring more of the same on the offensive side of the ball (see: Carolina; Denver), other teams will be ushering in completely new schemes this season. The most exciting from a fantasy perspective are Bruce Arians in Arizona, Marc Trestman in Chicago, Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, and Andy Reid in Kansas City. But there is plenty of intrigue around the impact of coaching changes in Cleveland, Buffalo, Indianapolis, and San Diego, as well. Spring training reports and preseason games will give us an idea about how well the new systems are taking hold and what we can expect from the primary skill players in each offense.
7. Players at a Fantasy Crossroads
Whether they are former fantasy studs or guys that have always teased us with their potential, there is no shortage of players in make-or-break type situations this season. Jay Cutler is in a contract year and will be running a new offense that is supposed to highlight his strengths as a quarterback. He has tempted fantasy owners with what might be during his tenure in Chicago, but will this be the season that he puts it all together? Meanwhile, guys like Michael Vick (also in a contract year) and Philip Rivers will be looking to recapture past glory with new coaching staffs.
Outside of the quarterbacks, there are several position players that should be in put-up-or-shut-up mode. Can Maurice Jones-Drew come back from injury? Can Darren McFadden, Hakeem Nicks, or Kenny Britt stay healthy? Is Jermichael Finley ever going to deliver on the fantasy potential that he teases us with every year? All of these players are in contract years, meaning their 2013 performances could go a long way toward determining where they will be playing next season and whether NFL or fantasy owners will want to invest in them in the future.
Every year, injuries occur in training camp and the preseason, sometimes dramatically impacting the fantasy football landscape before a single meaningful snap has been played. Before the calendar had even turned to August, the 2013 season produced three such fantasy casualties in Percy Harvin, Jeremy Maclin, and Dennis Pitta. As unfortunate as it might be, chances are good that the injury bug will rear its ugly head again before the end of the month. Keep a close eye on everything from season-enders to nagging injuries, and keep in mind the guys that are next in line should an opportunity present itself.
While a suspension is certainly not the same as an injury, players that fail drug test or have run-ins with the law in the offseason might as well have balky hamstrings. You know that you are not going to get a full slate of games from them, but that doesn’t mean that they are devoid of fantasy value. Keep this in mind when evaluating guys like Josh Gordon, Justin Blackmon, and Isaiah Pead. Remember, too, that guys stepping in for suspended players – think Greg Little in Cleveland – can be decent options for you if you are worried about the early-season health of another player on your roster.
9. Veteran Free Agents
At this point, veteran free agents that have yet to sign are generally looking for training camp developments that open up new opportunities. The most likely scenario for this is an injury, a la the above-referenced Harvin, Maclin, and Pitta situations, and the still-available free agent that I’m most intrigued by is Brandon Lloyd. While he failed to live up to expectations in New England last year, Lloyd had very productive seasons in 2010 and 2011. If he ends up in the right spot, a currently-unemployed Lloyd could be a better fantasy value than most late-round wide receiver picks.
At the running back position, veterans like Willis McGahee, Michael Turner, Beanie Wells, and Cedric Benson have their best football days behind them. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t generate a level of fantasy value in the right situation. While I’d be surprised if any of these guys gets an opportunity to be a featured back in 2013, any one of them could end up splitting carries somewhere and getting goal line work.
10. Preseason Darlings
Everyone knows that most preseason statistics are worthless. But every year there are guys that show a little extra something in the right situations, and sometimes those guys end up being great fantasy sleepers. Alfred Morris, for example, turned a lot of heads in the 2012 preseason when he rushed for 195 yards on 39 carries in the Washington’s first three preseason games. The most notable thing there was that Morris didn’t play in Week 4 of the preseason, a telltale sign that he was at least in the mix to be the Redskins starter on opening day.
So be on the lookout for those types of cues, and for players coming out of nowhere. Most of the preseason darlings will never be heard from again, but a select few will be worthy of a late-round flyer at your fantasy draft or could at least be waiver wire names to remember. And then there are always guys like Victor Cruz, who looked like the best receiver in football during the 2010 preseason, but barely saw the field during the regular season. However, the following year Cruz “came out of nowhere” with 1,500 yards and nine touchdowns. Sometimes the storylines you follow in August are as much about long-term fantasy success as they are immediate rewards.