Training Camp Notes: Decline of Andre Johnson? Beast Mode Still Not “About That Action, Boss”

Marshawn Lynch
  • 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.

  • Kenny Britt could be the most underrated winner from the first week of training camp. Flying largely under the radar, he has been getting the majority of his snaps with the first team offense. The Rams official site reports the former 1st round pick, who has impressed coach Jeff Fisher throughout the offseason, made some nice catches Tuesday. According to all reports he was catching everything thrown his way going back to minicamp and OTA’s as well. Sam Bradford even said he “provides veteran leadership to the receiver room”. For Britt, where talent was never the issue (staying out of the Mike Munchak’s doghouse was), this is a great sign. Remember, this is a height/weight/speed specimen that stands 6-3, 223 pounds, runs the 40 in 4.47 seconds with a vertical of 37 inches and broad jump of 10-4. Britt was on the verge of breaking out in 2011 before tearing his ACL in the third game with 14 receptions, 271 yards, & three TD through two games. And his quarterback, Sam Bradford, was better than you may recall before his season ended prematurely in week 7 last year with a torn ACL (18.1 fantasy ppg, 14 TD/4 INT). If Britt can stay out of trouble, he offers a high-upside, low-risk pick late in fantasy drafts or off the waiver wire.
  • While Jeremy Maclin continues to impress, Riley Cooper is currently dealing with a foot injury. Chip Kelly has indicated the injury is minor, saying they expect the wideout back “shortly”. While we don’t know the nature of Cooper’s foot issue, it seems there is nothing to worry about at this time. Kelly has stated that Jeremy Maclin looks “fantastic” thus far in training camp. With Nick Foles offering the same sentiment, it appears Maclin is ready to fill the void created by Desean Jackson’s departure. His production has always been solid in Philly-never less than 762 yards in any season he’s played in as a pro (missed all of 2013 with the ACL tear in minicamp); and that was in a far less dynamic offense than Kelly’s hurry-up system. With the Jackson’s release, it seems like a safe bet that a proven 25-year old with Maclin’s ability (remember, 19th overall pick in 2009) will exceed his career high of 964 receiving yards. If he’s fully healthy and has regained that 4.45 speed, he could be a sneaky value pick in the middle rounds as your WR2 or WR3. After all, we’ve seen what the No. 1 receiver in that offense can do with Jackson’s 82/1,332/9 line last season.
  • Alshon Jeffrey (foot) returned to practice Wednesday for the Chicago Bears. Due to the sore foot, he wasn’t able to finish practice on Monday; so being back on the field so soon is a sign the ailment was minor and nothing to worry about going forward. Jeffrey broke out in 2013, coming out of nowhere to finish sixth in the NFL with 1,421 yards on a ridiculous 9.5 yards/target. After finishing 9th among wide receivers in fantasy points last season, Jeffrey won’t be flying under the radar this year. He is currently ranked as the No. 8 WR, and fantasy owners will expect another WR1 campaign from the 24-year old Pro Bowler. Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall form arguably the best receiver duo in the NFL, so it’s not as if defensive coordinators can roll coverage to his side to stop him. Expect even bigger things from Jeffrey and the other members of the Bears’ offense in their second year under Marc Trestman, “the quarterback whisperer”.
  • Staying with the wide receiver position, Pierre Garcon (hamstring) also returned to practice Wednesday. Garcon had left Redskins’ practice Monday with a slight hamstring pull, but was back in a limited capacity after a day off. He was able to go through individual drills, but coaches wisely held him out of full team activities to avoid aggravating the injury. The league-leader in receptions (113) and targets (184) will likely see a slight decrease in volume this season with the arrival of Desean Jackson. However, with Robert Griffin III finally having another viable option, Garcon’s efficiency should improve from the 7.4 YPT in 2013.   Last year, RG3 tended to lock in on his favorite target far too often. Now he has one of the best WR duos in the league and that can only mean fantasy goodness for not only Griffin, but the entire Redskins’ O. With pass-happy Jay Gruden now calling plays in Washington, there will be enough balls to go around for Garcon (and Jackson) to continue to be a strong option in the WR2 tier.
  • Chris Johnson has nothing but good things to say about the condition of his right knee after undergoing arthroscopic surgery in January. He tore the meniscus in week 3 of 2013 and played through the injury all season despite his lateral movement being severely limited. Johnson topped the 1,000-yard plateau for the 6th straight time and scored 10 total touchdowns for the 4th time in his six seasons despite averaging a career-low 3.9 YPC. Predictably, Chris Ivory is the early favorite to be the Jets’ short-yardage back this year, per the New York Daily News. Running backs coach Anthony Lynn said on Monday, “If we were playing tomorrow, Ivory would be on the goal line, obviously”. Not exactly surprising to anyone, particularly those that owned Chris Johnson in recent years. While it isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Chris Ivory to steal the full-time job (never fewer than 4.6 yards/carry), they did sign CJ2K for a reason. That could be indicative of a lack of trust in Ivory to stay healthy (25 total games missed in four seasons) or with the idea of recreating the ’08 Titans’ “Smash and Dash” in the Jets backfield. Chris Johnson, with that 4.24 speed, still possesses the game-breaking ability to score from anywhere on the field and single-handedly win your fantasy matchup. With the quarterback situation being a mess, you would figure Rex Ryan will lean heavily on the run game per usual-making both runners viable fantasy options for the 2014 season.
  • Updating yesterday’s item, David Wilson will be held out of practice the rest of the week and will not play in this Sunday’s preseason opener vs the Bills. The neck injury was described as a “burner” (or “stinger”) and it is still unknown if this will end up being a minor or major setback for the 32nd overall pick in 2012. Wilson will be re-evaluated Monday by Dr. Frank Camissa, the same doctor who performed his spinal fusion surgery in January. The Giants will surely proceed with caution going forward, but you can’t help but feel for the talented young runner. Wilson was expected to break out last season, but struggled in the first five games (146 yards, 1 TD, 3.3 YPC) before suffering the herniated disk against the Eagles in October. After spending months rehabbing, he had just received full clearance from team doctors on July 21st. The Giants were smart in signing Rashad Jennings and drafting Andre Williams as an insurance policy, but Wilson is clearly the most talented and explosive runner in that backfield and a nice sleeper candidate if healthy.