I know, they have missed four straight postseasons (going 26-38 during that time), run the franchise beyond poorly for years and have a rookie HC in Todd Bowles. But it seems obvious [to me, at least] no team has improved more in 2015 than the New York Football Jets. The real question, however, is whether Gang Green has improved enough to contend for a playoff spot. Given their defense, running game and conference affiliation, my answer is a resounding yes.
– By the time this is published, we will be almost exactly 24 hours away from the official start of the 2014 football season. Tomorrow when we wake up there will be a whole different feeling in the air, a level of excitement that’s been missing since last February. Green Bay and Seattle kick off the regular season Thursday night. We get to set fantasy lineups, read box scores, and predict meaningful games. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can’t wait. Without further ado, let’s get to it:
– Well, it looks like we no longer have to worry about that concussion after all. Denver wide receiver Wes Welker has been suspended four games for violation of the league’s PED policy (amphetamines). We learned later that it was reportedly the result of taking MDMA, which is also known as Ecstasy or “Molly”, at the Kentucky Derby earlier this year. It would appear he’s been spending too much time with teammate Von Miller…too soon? Maybe I’m jaded; but after reading his denial here, I’m not buying what Welker is selling. He was a little over the top on the “play dumb” defense in my opinion.
– The NFL upheld its one-year suspension of the Browns receiver for his latest violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Gordon will now have to wait until after the 2014 season to apply with Commissioner Roger Goodell for reinstatement. While it isn’t the result many of us were hoping for, at least we finally have a resolution to the saga that has been ongoing since the story broke during the second day of the NFL draft in May. Head coach Mike Pettine described the Browns as “impatiently waiting” for news earlier this week. Clearly Cleveland, like the fantasy community, had hoped to know Gordon’s status much earlier in the preseason. Gordon was able to participate in training camp and preseason games while his case was pending. At times he appeared visibly distracted and unfocused (understandably so) during game action this preseason with the situation weighing heavily on his mind. The third-year pro was drafted in the second round of the supplemental draft in 2012 despite several red flags coming out of college. There have been numerous drug-related transgressions since 2011, almost too many to list or remember. Those offenses have been well-documented and highly-publicized, and it appears they finally caught up to the wideout.
– Following Carolina’s 28-16 win over Kansas City in a nationally televised preseason game Sunday night, Panthers coach Ron Rivera and Center Ryan Khalil had some high praise for running back Jonathan Stewart. The six-year veteran ran for 26 yards and two touchdowns on just four carries, prompting Rivera to say the Carolina offense can be “dynamic” if Stewart can remain healthy. Khalil added to that, “When he does get back out there you realize why he is so special and why you keep giving him chances to come back.”
Health has always been the biggest issue for Stewart, particularly over the last two seasons where he’s played in just 15 of a possible 32 games. On top of the missed time, the oft-injured runner hasn’t been himself even when on the field. Since 2012, J-Stew has totaled a mere 516 rushing yards and one touchdown on 141 carries (3.7 yards/rush). On Sunday he certainly looked fully recovered from the ankle issues and torn MCL that plagued him in 2013, as well as the pulled hamstring he had been battling early in training camp.
– Colts running back Trent Richardson seemed confident talking about his goals for 2014, “1,000 yards is not it for me-it’s much higher”. Fortunately for fantasy owners, Richardson’s psyche certainly doesn’t seem shaken by that disastrous 2013 performance. He also said that he is “finally healthy” after undergoing surgery to repair the torn AC joint in his shoulder this offseason; that injury clearly affected his play more than we realized at the time. The third-year back also struggled with a hamstring injury earlier in camp, costing him about a week of practice. Thankfully the issue was minor and appears to be in the rearview mirror, as it hasn’t flared up since. Now that he is finally 100 percent, the Indianapolis faithful can only hope he is ready to maximize his full potential. Richardson’s outlook hasn’t been affected by his poor showing last season or spectators heckling him during red zone drills earlier in training camp (after averaging 2.9 yards per carry following the trade with the Browns that brought Richardson to Indy, very few would blame the Colts fans for doing so). I may be in the minority here, but I am betting on the Alabama product quieting those many critics. Trent Richardson is going to redeem himself in 2014, silencing the doubters and regaining the trust of the fantasy football universe.
– How great was it to have an actual football game on this past weekend? Sunday just felt different knowing there was a game being played that evening. On the downside, Sammy Watkins was held without a catch on three targets in the Hall of Fame Game vs the Giants. In fairness, it’s not as if those targets were all catchable. Even though you would’ve liked to see him touch the ball a few times, you can’t overreact to this, right? It’s just too soon to judge, not enough of a sample size. Well, that just isn’t the way fantasy football works-we have to draft now.
The fourth overall pick in the draft is entering the league with as much hype as any wide receiver since 2011, as he is widely acclaimed as the best WR prospect since AJ Green and Julio Jones. Eventually, he should live up to that billing. However, we have to temper our expectations of his immediate impact because he is not nearly as pro ready as AJ Green. I realize that’s almost an unfair statement, as Green was probably more ready for the NFL game than any other receiver coming out of college in the last decade. Here’s the thing, though: Watkins is raw.
- Andre Johnson (strained right hamstring) did not return to practice for the Texans Wednesday. Johnson pulled his hamstring during Monday’s practice. Houston is downplaying the severity of it, but the injury has to be cause for concern in the fantasy world. Remember, Johnson missed nine games in 2011 with multiple hamstring issues. He first pulled the hammy in their fourth game and was forced out of action for the next six, returning to action only to aggravate the injury again (missing three games the next time around). Hamstring pulls have a way of popping back up throughout the year, making it difficult for fantasy owners to trust having the player in their lineup. Johnson has averaged an incredible 110.5 receptions for 1,502.5 yards over the last two seasons. However, he’s 33 years old and his yards/catch regressed from 14.3 in 2012 to 12.9 in 2013. Furthermore, his YAC numbers were down considerably from 552 yards after catch to 412 yards last year (a regression of 4.9 yards after catch/reception to a career-low 3.8 YAC/rec). Continuing with that theme, Johnson’s yards per target of 7.8 was a FULL YARD worse than his previous career low of 8.8 YPT in 2010. Many will attribute this to the dreadful quarterback situation in Houston last year, but did it really get any better? Isn’t that why he was threatening to hold out? After missing all of OTA’s and minicamp, Johnson needs as many reps as possible during training camp in order to learn Bill O’Brien’s offense and get on the same page with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. As hard as it is to swallow considering how consistently great Andre Johnson has been, there is huge bust potential here for the future Hall of Famer with zero career double-digit touchdown seasons.
- Marshawn Lynch, by not reporting to training camp by Wednesday, is now subject to losing 15% of his signing bonus on top of the standard $30k per day. Of course, the team can rescind those fines if and when Beast Mode arrives at camp (that’s 15% of this year’s $1.5 million bonus installment, not the entire $6 million bonus). GM John Schneider, speaking with John Clayton after the Seahawks’ televised practice on ESPN, said “I know it’s cliché but, next man up… we can’t ever veer from the plan for one person because it’s the ultimate team sport.” Lynch has very little leverage here, and it appears the Seahawks will stick to the model of making tough financial decisions when necessary. The last few extensive running back holdouts didn’t exactly yield positive fantasy results: Larry Johnson in 2007, CJ2K in 2011, and MJD in 2012 all struggled and/or missed significant time during the season. Lynch’s ADP has been in a free-fall over the summer due to concerns about his workload (366 total carries last year and 1,002 rushing attempts over last 3 years, including playoffs) and the holdout. If you end up drafting Beast Mode, handcuffing him with Christine Michael is an absolute must.