Fantasy scouting at the combine
Johnny Manziel measured in at under 6 feet, but ran a fast 40. Dri Archer almost beat Chris Johnson's 40 time. Brandin Cooks impressed among wide receivers, while on the defensive front, Jadeveon Clowney's impressive speed seemed to wash away an offseason of negative whispers.
Great. Tell me something I don't know.
Those storylines, along with Blake Bortles' throwing, Jimmy Garappolo's rising stock and the crazy amounts of attention focused on Michael Sam dominated the NFL combine coverage. And they are all important storylines. I get it. But that doesn't help us, does it? Obviously it's great to see college players in person, but let's be honest, there's only so much you can glean from it and there's even less that can be gleaned for fantasy purposes. Sammy Watkins is going to be a stud no matter where he lands and I love me some Mike Evans, but ultimately, no matter how talented a player is (or isn't), their fantasy value will be greatly influenced by the team they are drafted onto, that team's offensive scheme and that player's role and opportunity. So as I descended upon Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium for the NFL combine, my goal was partially to get to know the incoming crop of players better, of course, but my bigger goal was networking.
That's the part of the combine that doesn't get as much attention. The networking. The schmoozing. The fact that every important person to every NFL team is there in Indy for a week, hangin' out at the stadium, having a drink at the bar, a bite to eat at the local steakhouse. You get on the elevator and you suddenly find yourself saying things like ... "Oh, what's up coach Belichick? Would you hit seven for me?"
Everyone is relaxed. The real work hasn't started yet and it's not an event that is open to the public, so everyone is less guarded and just catching up with friends and colleagues, old and new. Coaches and general managers speak at news conferences and then in smaller, less formal groups with whomever is around. Scouts, front-office executives, longtime beat reporters, assistant coaches, personnel guys, agents ... they are all there.
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Before you roll your eyes and start accusing me of being all name-droppy, which is probably an adjective, there's a reason I am telling you this. Winning at fantasy football is all about making the right decisions, and let's face it, making those right decisions is a lot easier when you have the right information. It's why folks like Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter are so valuable.
I spoke to everyone I could, listened even more and took it all in, all with our fantasy best interest in mind. Here are my general impressions and thoughts based on my time there. In some cases, the people I spoke to wished to remain anonymous, in some cases people told me things and then, the next day, said the same thing at news conferences or repeated it to someone else and it's already out there, but whatever. In no particular order, here's what I took away from Indy '14.
I wouldn't rush out and buy a Chris Johnson Titans jersey.
When it came to Chris Johnson's future in Tennessee, Titans personnel were very evasive (unlike Johnson himself. Hey-o!). I'd be shocked if he's back with them next year, which means his dynasty value probably takes a hit. Don't imagine him going to a place where he'll get as many touches as he did with the Titans. If he manages to stick there, I expect them to bring in someone else other than Shonn Greene to legitimately compete for touches.
Meanwhile, your Sam Bradford jersey gets one more year.
The ideal scenario for the Rams is to trade down, get a first-round pick next year for their current No. 2 overall pick and they roll with Bradford for one more year. They are sticking with him. If he can stay healthy and it works out, great. If not, they'll have a high pick next year to grab a quarterback. But they don't want any of the big three guys and would prefer to pick later, especially given the depth of the draft this year.
Why fantasy owners love Norv Turner.
Spoke with Vikings GM Rick Spielman, who told me the same thing he told Ben Goessling; the first thing Norv did upon getting hired by the Vikings was install 10 plays specifically for Cordarrelle Patterson. If you read or heard me at all last year, you know how much I love Patterson, so this is music to my ears. Spielman also told me Norv's success with tight ends was something they were excited about, and he expects a strong season out of Kyle Rudolph.
I may be too low on Adrian Peterson.
I currently have AP at No. 3 overall in my recently released Top 150 for 2014 and I'm worried I'm too low on him after speaking to both Spielman and Turner himself (in separate conversations). They both said the same thing; they want Peterson heavily involved in the passing game, "catching 60-70 balls." I think there's no way he catches that many, but so what? Even if he catches 40-50, getting him involved in the passing game is a good thing. Peterson has faced a ton of eight-man fronts in his life and Norv is determined to get Peterson in space and alleviate that.
I may be too high on Alfred Morris.
As much as I love Morris, the feeling I'm getting after talking to a few folks is that new Washington head coach Jay Gruden wants to go to more of a committee approach, similar to what he ran with the Bengals with Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis splitting the load. However, the pass-catching back may not be on Washington's roster yet, as I didn't hear a ton of confidence in Roy Helu. Personally, I thought Morris looked great catching the ball in the Pro Bowl, but currently plans are for more of a RBBC. We'll see what happens with the draft and free agency, however, as Washington has many needs and this may be a luxury they need to wait on. Because one area they are definitely going to address is ...
'Wide receiver is something we're going to look hard at.'
Jay Gruden expressed a great deal of confidence in Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed -- "Gotta get him healthy, but great hands, moves well, great player" -- but not much after that. He discussed Aldrick Robinson and some others but he said the pass-catchers after those two "is something we'll take a look at." My interpretation, based on the entire conversation, is that Washington's No. 2 wide receiver next season is not currently on its roster.
Smiles, all smiles.
Of all the players I brought up to various team officials, the two players who elicited the biggest smiles and eyes-going-wide by coaches? Terrance Williams for Jason Garrett and Ladarius Green for Mike McCoy. Bright futures for both players. Very bright futures.
The Cards offense will feature Andre Ellington. Or it won't. Depends whom you listen to.
Bruce Arians loves him some Andre Ellington. He spoke about how Ellington could be a feature back, how "we want to build our offense around him," and he specifically noted how Ellington already has put on 10 pounds and singled out his receiving ability, saying Ellington catches the ball as well as most of their starting wide receivers. Of course, Cardinals general manager Steve Keim then said he doesn't plan on Ellington being a feature back for the Cards, hinting at more of a platoon, with special mention going to Stepfan Taylor. My take is that Ellington and Taylor maybe split the carries, but Ellington catches all the balls and will be the Arizona running back you want. And I'll trust Arians over Keim here. High risk, high reward on Ellington, but I'm believing the hype.
'Do you have a No. 2 wide receiver?' 'I don't think we have a No. 3.'
Very little confidence in Detroit about their receiving options after Calvin Johnson. With so many free agents and wide receiver being so deep in the draft this year, the Lions are in a similar position as Washington in this regard: Their No. 2 wide receiver is not currently on the roster, and that is probably good news for Matthew Stafford.
I can't give you a name, but at least it won't be names.
Had a nice conversation with Colts head coach Chuck Pagano. (His kids play fantasy!) Asked him how he felt about his running game going into next year. He said he felt good, mentioned all the injuries they had, both to running backs (notably to Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard) and to the offensive line, and felt they would get the line fixed and once they had all their backs healthy, they'd be in good shape. I asked if, assuming all backs were healthy, he wanted to go to a workhorse-type situation or more of a committee, and he indicated that, while there will be some situations where a specific role player would work, he expects someone to win the job and get the majority of work.
... only a few weeks until free agency.
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