Just over a month after the Patriots upended the Falcons in one of the more dramatic Super Bowls in NFL history, the 2017 league year is already set to begin at 4PM EST Thursday. That’s when teams will be able to sign free agents, but the legal tampering period for prospective teams and players to begin discussions started Tuesday. As you’d expect, there’s already significant chatter about who’s going where, so in an effort to stay up to speed with the dominoes set to fall, here’s a roundup of the early reports and the impacts such activity might have on the fantasy landscape:
Arian Foster, who has missed time with both calf and back complications this preseason, reportedly feels that his time off could actually benefit his body’s health entering the season. The running back has been exposed to less hits than usual during Houston’s exhibition preparation, making Foster optimistic about his availability despite not playing this preseason. Foster is expected to be ready to go come Week 1, but it would not be surprising if the very capable Ben Tate cut into the Texans lead back’s carries early on.
Santonio Holmes (foot) practiced Monday for the first time since being injured in late September. The wideout’s prognosis for his availability this season has been all over the board leading up to Week 1, so it’s unlikely that he participated in much of Monday’s practice. Despite the uncertainty surrounding Holmes’ health, he is the Jets’ best receiving option when at full strength, so his involvement to start this week is encouraging. New York’s passing game undoubtedly has questions yet to answer, but the team will be happy that their most accomplished pass-catcher is at least back on the practice field.
Titans head coach Mike Munchak revealed Monday that he expects wide receiver Kenny Britt (knee) to need at least one day off from practice during each week of the regular season. The wideout enters this season healthier than in years past, but it is clear that the state of Britt’s knees is something the Titans will have to consider in their preparations all season long. When healthy, Britt is a very capable big-bodied receiver, but knee problems have limited the 24-year-old?s production, and he has never eclipsed over 45 receptions or 775 yards in a single season.
Rashard Mendenhall (knee) is being considered day-to-day by Cardinals brass. The running back reported feeling looseness in his knee during Saturday’s preseason game, but the issue is thought to be a minor one. The ex-Steeler will be held out of Arizona’s final preseason tune-up, making way for another oft-injured back, Ryan Williams (knee), to see playing time. Mendenhall should be ready to start in Week 1, but his knee situation seems to have followed him to the desert, even if the severity has toned down.
Keeping the trend of banged-up running backs, Panthers half-back Jonathan Stewart (ankles) will meet with doctor Robert Anderson on Tuesday in an attempt to determine when the ball-carrier will be available this season. Stewart has not practiced since undergoing surgery on both his ankles this offseason and is a candidate to begin the season on Carolina’s PUP list, which would rule him out for the first six weeks of the Panthers’ season. Should Stewart remain out, DeAngelo Williams would be freed of his primary backfield handcuff, but runners like Cam Newton, Mike Tolbert, and rookie Kenjon Barner would still cap Williams’ fantasy value with their various running contributions.
Wisconsin rookie Montee Ball took the majority of first-team snaps in Monday’s practice. Ball has been competing for the Broncos’ starting running back position with Ronnie Hillman throughout the preseason, but appears to have an inside track on the gig in light of Hillman fumbling in each of Denver’s past two exhibition contests. The former Badger needs to improve his pass blocking skills in order to become a more complete back, but Ball should be one of fantasy’s better first-year player options this season.
Packers running back DuJuan Harris is seeking a second opinion on his knee, putting his Week 1 status in doubt. The tailback was considered a first-team option by head coach Mike McCarthy earlier this preseason, but this development catapults impressive rookie Eddie Lacy further into the driver’s seat to be Green Bay’s starter to open the season.
Arian Foster (back) did not practice Monday, but Texans head coach Gary Kubiak seemed confident in having his starting running back healthy for the team’s season opener. Foster has been getting injections throughout the preseason to help his ailing back, which has limited him to individual workouts at practice. It’s probably safe to assume Foster won’t play this preseason to ensure he will be ready to go in Week 1. Until then, Ben Tate will run with Houston’s first-team offense.
Jordan Cameron continues to improve and is becoming a more complete player, according to offensive coordinator Norv Turner. When discussing Cameron, Turner notes how the former USC Trojan has markedly progressed as a blocker, a crucial component to complement his receiving ability. With two touchdown catches and an average of 18 yards per catch so far this preseason, the speedy 6-5 Cameron has sleeper potential, especially considering new Browns head coach Rod Chudzinski’s impressive track record with tight ends.
Victor Cruz (heel contusion) is not expected to practice Tuesday and is listed as day-to-day. The receiver left Sunday night’s preseason contest early to have X-rays done on his heel, but after the results returned negative, it appears both the Giants and Cruz survived the injury scare. The G-Men may choose to sit Cruz in their next exhibition game against the Jets in order to ensure he is 100 percent come Week 1.
Jordy Nelson (knee) is aiming to be ready to play in Green Bay’s season opener. The Packers’ receiver underwent a minor arthroscopic knee surgery two weeks ago to fix an issue that has bothered him throughout his NFL career. If all goes according to plan, Nelson will be healthy to face the 49ers in Week 1, but monitor his situation for more definite confirmation.
Rob Gronkowski (back) is unlikely to be available for the Patriots’ opening game this season. Despite looking good in workouts, Gronk playing in Week 1 is reportedly an unrealistic expectation. As such, New England faces a roster decision of whether to place Gronkowski on their PUP list, which would force him to sit the season’s first six games, or keep him on their active roster. Zach Sudfeld becomes fantasy relevant while Gronk remains sidelined.
Steve Johnson (hamstring) practiced Monday and is expected to play in Buffalo’s next preseason game. While Johnson’s return is great news for Bills fans, the bigger question surrounding the team at this point is who will throw to the receiver. Rookie EJ Manuel (knee) and veteran Kevin Kolb are in the midst of a quarterback competition and the winner will likely rely on Johnson for his big-play ability this season.
Ed Dickson returned to practice Monday. The tight end missed a couple of weeks after a slight hamstring tear, but is now poised to reclaim the Ravens’ starting position ahead of competition from the newly-signed duo of Dallas Clark and Visanthe Shiancoe.
The Chiefs traded wide receiver Jon Baldwin to the 49ers on Monday for fellow wideout A.J. Jenkins. Both players are recent first-round selections that have failed to make much impact in their NFL careers thus far. Baldwin is a big-bodied receiver who played tight end in college, while Jenkins is a speedster. From a fantasy perspective, the deal benefits Baldwin more because of San Francisco’s thin receiving corps.
Jamaal Charles: The Kansas City speedster was carted off the field Monday with a strained foot. Fortunately for Charles, X-rays came back negative, so it seems he avoided a serious setback. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid did not lie out a timetable for his starting running back’s return, but he did not seem overly concerned about Charles’ future availability. More information regarding the injury is sure to surface in the coming days, so be sure to monitor accordingly.
Plaxico Burress: Burress underwent season-ending rotator cuff surgery Monday, a procedure that could spell the end of his career. At 36-years-old, Burress was competing for a reserve wideout spot with the Steelers and was expected to have minor fantasy value this season, but his injury eliminates him from consideration. After losing Mike Wallace in free agency and Health Miller (knee) to injury, Pittsburgh-s primary pass-catchers this season should shape up to be Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and rookie Markus Wheaton.
Malcom Floyd: Floyd suffered an apparent right knee injury in Monday’s practice and had to be carted off the field. While the severity of the injury is unknown at this point, the Chargers will surely be hoping for the absolute best after losing Danario Alexander (knee) for the season last week. If healthy, Floyd should be San Diego’s No. 1 receiver this season, but if he is forced to miss time, the Bolts are left with Vincent Brown, Eddie Royal, and rookie Keenan Allen as their top three wideouts.
Ahmad Bradshaw: The former Giant was activated from Indianapolis’ PUP list on Monday after offseason foot surgery delayed the beginning of his season. Bradshaw is the most experienced of the Colts’ running backs and will likely secure the team’s starting role if healthy, with Vick Ballard serving as his backup.
DuJuan Harris: Harris was removed from Green Bay’s PUP list on Monday and practiced for the first time this season. The running back completed some individual drills, but will be given more time before he participates in team drills. While head coach Mike McCarthy has lauded Harris as the early leader to be the Packers’ starting back, competition from rookies Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin, along with veterans James Starks and Alex Green, make McCarthy’s view questionable. Ultimately, Harris could likely serve as a change-of-pace option while Lacy shoulders most of the load.
Julio Jones was limited during the Falcons’ practice Monday due to an undisclosed injury. When speaking about his star receiver, head coach Mike Smith said, “It was mainly precautionary in terms of watching his load.” While it sounds like Jones’ injury is nothing to worry about, if he is not 100 percent healthy come Thursday, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him sit out Atlanta’s preseason opener.
Ed Dickson left Sunday’s practice early with a slight hamstring tear and will now be sidelined for a couple of weeks. At first glance, Dickson’s ailment was considered to be just a strain, but after further evaluation, it appears to be a bit more serious. The injury’s timing compounds the fact that the Ravens will be without Dennis Pitta (hip) for the season. Dickson, when he returns, will assume starting duties at tight end for Baltimore, who surely will hope the hamstring issue does not linger into the regular season.
It was revealed Monday that Patrick Willis will have surgery on his broken right hand. The Pro-Bowl linebacker has experienced injuries to the same hand in the past and played with a protective cast, so he is not expected to miss any regular season action as a result of this latest procedure. His IDP value should remain similarly high, but don’t expect to see him much in the preseason.
Le’Veon Bell returned to practice Sunday after sitting out Saturday with a minor knee problem. The rookie is currently competing with Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer to be Pittsburgh’s starting running back this season; a decision offensive coordinator Todd Haley suggested won’t be made soon. Nonetheless, Bell is considered to have a leg up on the competition given his power and versatility, which gives him nice fantasy upside.
Browns running back Trent Richardson was suited up in practice Monday after missing some work over the weekend with a bruised right shin. The second-year back merely sat out as a precautionary decision, but with his history of lower extremity injuries, it seems Cleveland plans to be cautious with their first-round pick of a year ago in order to keep him fresh. Don’t be surprised if Richardson sits out Thursday’s preseason opener.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was sacked more than any other signal-caller in the league last season, will be without projected starting left tackle Bryan Bulaga for the entirety of the 2013 season. Bulaga suffered a torn ACL during Green Bay’s scrimmage Saturday and will be replaced by either Marshall Newhouse or rookie David Bakhtiari. Rodgers owners should not be overly worried about this news, given the wide success he has experienced with lackluster protection in years past, but it is something to note anyway. On the bright side, the injury gives the Packers virtually the entire preseason to sure up their line before facing a dangerous 49ers defensive front in Week 1.
After Thursday night’s wildly unpredictable NBA Draft, the destinations of this year’s top prospects are now established, providing an opportunity to examine which players stand to make the biggest fantasy impacts during their rookie campaigns. Along with their talent, the following first-year players figure to make fantasy splashes due to the situations they find themselves in and their likelihoods of earning significant playing time during the 2013-2014 season.
Anthony Bennett – Cavs
The first pick of the draft is a physical big man who is capable of scoring in the paint or on the perimeter. Bennett is currently nursing a shoulder injury that will prevent him from playing in Summer League action, but the UNLV product should be healthy for the season’s start. With fellow Canadian Tristan Thompson as the Cavs’ incumbent starting power forward, Bennett faces competition for playing time, but his shooting ability will allow him to see minutes at small forward as well. Expect Bennett to put up strong scoring numbers, including an impressive amount of three-pointers for a power forward, and be among the top rookie rebounders given his 240-pound frame and 7-1 wingspan.
Cody Zeller – Bobcats
Zeller figures to start at power forward for a Bobcats team that desperately needs scoring from its frontcourt. Thankfully for Charlotte, Zeller has a polished post game and is expected to play as a stretch-4 also. The former Hoosier will have to overcome difficulties with scoring against longer players, but Zeller should see a plethora of minutes during his rookie season and likely will be the Bobcats’ second scoring option behind point guard Kemba Walker. Additionally, at seven feet tall, Zeller’s rebounding ability will help both fantasy owners and the Bobcats, who finished fourth worst in that category last season.
Nerlens Noel – Sixers
Noel is coming off a torn ACL that limited him to just 24 games last season at Kentucky, but when healthy, the 19-year-old possess knacks for rebounding and blocking shots that are unmatched by any other member of his draft class. The Sixers made a clear indication on draft night that they are rebuilding, so when Noel returns in November or December, he should see plenty of minutes. He needs to develop an offensive game, but Noel’s athleticism will allow him to help fantasy owners in rebounding and blocks right away.
Ben McLemore – Kings
McLemore slid to the seventh pick, when the Kings rushed their selection to the podium to draft the former Kansas standout. In his only season playing for the Jayhawks, McLemore led the team in scoring, which figures to be his calling card in the NBA as well. The swingman has a picture-perfect jump shot and elite athleticism, making him a strong candidate to lead rookies in points, especially given Sacramento’s lack of perimeter punch.
Trey Burke – Jazz
Last season’s Naismith Award winner will likely start at point guard on opening night for the Jazz and is a perfect fit given Utah’s preference for a scoring floor leader. Burke does well in the pick-and-roll and is a sound shooter, which should allow him to post strong point and assist averages during his rookie season. The former Michigan Wolverine could also lead first-year players in minutes played this season.
Michael Carter-Williams – Sixers
Philadelphia traded All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday on draft night, making Carter-Williams their starter from the get-go. At 6-6, MCW will be one of the league’s biggest point guards, which should allow him to duplicate the high assist numbers he posted at Syracuse. Along with his passing ability, Carter-Williams’ size helps him excel on the boards and in making steals. He is not much of a scoring threat right now, but his point average may benefit from the Sixers’ current lack of offensive weapons, forcing MCW to shoot more.
Shabazz Muhammad – Wolves
Simply put, Muhammad is a scorer. He averaged just under 18 points per game during his only season at UCLA and with Ricky Rubio as Minnesota’s floor general, Muhammad should find himself in many scoring opportunities. He needs to work on his ball handling, but Muhammad is a capable shooter who should benefit from the situation he was drafted into.
Isaiah Canaan – Rockets
Canaan, a second-round selection, is more of a sleeper consideration, but the Murray State product is a great fit for the Rockets’ high-octane offense. A fearless scorer and accomplished shooter, Canaan figures to provide Houston a bench spark and make his share of three-pointers to satisfy fantasy owners as well.
DeMarcus Cousins: Finishes Preseason Strong– Cousins put up 20 points on 9-of-17 shooting and had 13 rebounds in the Kings’ final preseason game Thursday night. Through two NBA seasons, his career field goal percentage sits at just 44|PERCENT|, a number that probably should be higher for a player of Cousins’ stature and talent level, but he still holds high draft value nonetheless. Last year saw Cousins improve his points, rebounds, blocks, and steals per game, while his turnovers per game decreased, to his fantasy owners’ delight. In year three, it appears Cousins will be the focus of Sacramento’s offense, which should equal a season of consistently high double-doubles like the one he produced Thursday.
Blake Griffin: Productive Night– The Blake Show was in full effect Thursday, as Griffin dunked his way to 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting. A number of those baskets came off lob passes from Chris Paul, who tallied 12 assists on the night, but Griffin also added 11 rebounds for good measure. He looks to be 100 percent after having offseason knee surgery and figures to be one of the league’s most productive and sensational big men for another season.
Nicolas Batum: Versatile– After signing a big-money deal this offseason, Batum appears to be poised for both his best season as a pro and as a fantasy player. At just 23-years-old, Batum’s impact for the Blazers has become more significant in each of his four NBA seasons and year five looks to be no different as he enters the season as Portland’s premiere wing player. The Frenchman contributes toward nearly every statistical category and his numbers of 17 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, three steals, and two blocks Thursday night reflect this. While Batum did not make a three-pointer, his jump shot looks to have improved further over the offseason and in the Olympics, so prepare for a big season from Batum, who will be additionally boosted by the point guard play of rookie-of-the-year candidate Damian Lillard.
Derrick Favors & Enes Kanter: Big Off Bench– Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap may be more proven commodities that warrant bigger minutes on a nightly basis, but the Jazz also have the luxury of two blossoming big men on their bench in Favors and Kanter. The duo is just 21 and 20-years-old, respectively, and looks to be pushing the aforementioned elder statesmen for playing time across the Utah front line this season. Thursday night, both Favors and Kanter had 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, with the latter pulling down 12 boards and the former six. Numbers like those hint at both players’ potentials and the progress they have made since entering the association. Keep an eye on how the Jazz shuffle their power forward and center positions in the early going because Favors and Kanter are certainly making their cases for increased minutes.
Tobias Harris: 18 in 18– Milwaukee’s second-year player had 18 points in 18 minutes in Thursday night’s preseason game against the Bobcats. That total included three triples and Harris also grabbed five rebounds. He enters the season as the Bucks starter at small forward after an impressive summer league showing and a fairly good camp. Noted for the fluency of his game, Harris will be driven by competition from Mike Dunleavy Jr. off the bench. Thursday, Dunleavy Jr. had 17 points and five rebounds, while also making three triples. It will be interesting to see how Harris handles increased minutes and a bigger role on the team. He figures to go through some rough patches, as most young players do over the course of a full season, but if Thursday night is any indication, the talent is there.