Fantasy Football 2014: Buying or Selling NFL OTA Buzz
But that doesn't mean we care any less about the position, fantasy or otherwise. Proof is in the hype.
Running back depth-chart battles have dominated the headlines, like they are wont to do, through OTAs this spring. They do so as well in our slideshow on buying or selling NFL OTA buzz.
From talk of 25 to 30 touches for Andre Ellington to Christine Michael stealing carries from potential holdout—or suddenly retiring?—Marshawn Lynch, we buy, sell or hold the top news of the NFL's period between the draft and summer training camps. Our first six items relate to the degraded running back position, but we don't stop there.
Sell: Arizona Cardinals' Andre Ellington Getting 25-30 Touches Per Game
Bruce Arians sounded like a flip-flopper this spring. After limiting Andre Ellington's touches as a rookie a year ago, Arians came out and said, ridiculously, he would like to see Ellington get 25 to 30 touches per game, according to Mike Jurecki of Fox Sports 910 AM in Arizona.
We immediately responded here at Bleacher Report, calling Arians' bluff. This piece of news is definitely an intriguing point of debate, but it should be quickly sold on hype.
The statement was foolhardy considering Ellington's stature, propensity for nagging ailments (ankle and foot, according to his NFL.com draft profile) and the nature of today's NFL. Backs just don't get that kind of workload nowadays. Granted, Ellington's touches will be based more on his involvement as a pass receiver, according to Darren Urban of the Cardinals' official website.
Arians told Urban earlier this spring:
He is still not a guy who you will pound up the middle 30 times a game and survive. He can run the football 30 times a game if you do it correctly, but you'd rather have him have 10 catches and 20 carries and let Stepfan Taylor or [Jonathan] Dwyer have the rest of the carries—pound the rest of the ball up in there.
Odds should be set very long for Ellington to ever get 30 touches in a game, much less average 25-plus. Arians was just too far removed from regular-season reality here.
Buy: Terrance West Can Beat Out Ben Tate for Cleveland Browns Starting RB Job
Forget whether Johnny Manziel starts over Ohio hero Brian Hoyer; the more interesting debate in Cleveland Browns offseason workouts is Ben Tate vs. third-round rookie Terrance West. Manziel will start. It is just a question of when.
Seeing West, the rookie draftee out of Towson, start over free-agent signee Tate is more buzz-worthy to us. We are buying this one.
Both backs are new to the Browns, so we really shouldn't give either the edge to start next season, particularly with Tate's injury history and the fact the veteran has been "a little nicked up during minicamp," according to the Akron Beacon Journal's Nate Ulrich. Tate might not be feeling the pressure, but he has had to respond to the talk he will be fighting for his starting job right away.
He won't go down without a fight, as he told the paper's Ulrich and Nate Thomas:
Truthfully, I don't look at it like that. [The media] may see it like that, but when I know what I'm doing, what I'm supposed to do, there's nobody in that room [of running backs] that scares me. I'm just honest. Competition is a healthy thing. If I come in here and say, "I got this locked down" and don't compete, that's how you lose your job. That's how you find your way out of the league fast. I'm a natural competitor.
As much as we buy this open competition between new Browns running backs, Tate told Ulrich and Thomas experience is on his side:
I'm not worried about that because I know when I'm on my game—I respect every running back here—but there's no one that can really touch me or that's close to what I do. ... I battled in and out every day with what some people consider the best running back in the league—Arian Foster. I've seen the best. I went against him every day. I battled it. So this around here to me is really not anything.
Just the fact Tate, who signed one of the most lucrative free-agent deals this offseason, per Spotrac.com—albeit in a suppressed market—has to address depth-chart competition makes this something to take seriously.
Hold: Seattle Seahawks Moving to More Running Back by Committee
Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell tantalized us with talk of a running back committee in early June, per ESPN.com's Terry Blount. Then, rumors of veteran workhorse back Marshawn Lynch contemplating retirement surfaced, as NFL insider Ian Rapoport tweeted Thursday night.
This situation is as complex as it is intriguing. We have to place it on hold and let it all unfold, particularly with Lynch angling for a new deal, according to a Blount report.
With the Seahawks preparing for a contract dispute, we now see the Christine Michael sharing-carries news as potential posturing, just as much as Lynch's thoughts of retirement are. The Seahawks are likely to ride Lynch as much as they have in the past if he plays. If he doesn't, well, Michael becomes the man in a run-heavy attack. Robert Turbin is the short-yardage part-timer.
Either way, Michael is going to become more of an important figure in training camp. Just how important should be kept on hold.
Buy: Cincinnati Bengals' Jeremy Hill Already Ahead of BenJarvus Green-Ellis
If BenJarvus Green-Ellis didn't get the message after the Cincinnati Bengals drafted Giovani Bernard as the first running back off the board in 2013, the fact Jeremy Hill was immediately the second back off the board in 2014 to the Bengals has to drive the point home with a hammer.
Green-Ellis is clearly out of favor in Cincy, so much so that buying this is like picking a penny up off the ground nowadays. Pennies have some semblance of value but barely. BGE has to feel the same now that he has tumbled down the depth chart, according to ESPN.com's Coley Harvey.
BGE being third behind Bernard and Hill now is so easy to buy, you can pick it up at your local flea market.
You cannot blame the Bengals. BGE brought this on himself with his paltry 3.4 yards per carry in 2013.
Cincinnati drafted Bernard and Hill at a premium in an era when backs are going later than ever in drafts. The Bengals are tied to them going forward.
Hold: Lamar Miller as Miami Dolphins' Starting Running Back
The Miami Dolphins scored a 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown back, Knowshon Moreno, affordably in free agency, but they are still giving Lamar Miller first-team reps, according to ESPN.com's James Walker. Heck, the end of the video above suggests an out-of-shape Moreno might be third or worse on the depth chart right now.
You can buy the fact Miller is the incumbent who won't give up his starting job without a fight, but we have to hold the fact Moreno won't eventually rise on the depth chart like he had to a year ago with the Denver Broncos en route to a career year.
Moreno admitted to the Miami Herald's Adam H. Beasley he is not in regular-season or even training-camp form:
I'm definitely not there. This is just the beginning. It's just the beginning, getting your feet wet, and when you have time off, working at those little things, getting back to where you need to be, and once camp comes, it'll be good.
While Joe Philbin has been effusive of praise for third-year back Miller, per Walker, he hasn't exactly been enamored with Miller in the past, and the head coach echoed Moreno's sentiment:
We aren't lining up until September 7th. The big thing is providing opportunities for repetition. ... We want to get a lot of plays on tape. Take a look at it. Teach it. Obviously, we are studying personnel and who can do which job the best. There will be a time and a place for all of that, but right now we are just interested in getting guys some work and exposure.
The Dolphins might be confident in Moreno's track record and in giving Miller a bit of a confidence boost here. We have to withhold judgment on the Dolphins' starter until the time the snaps really matter.
Buy: St. Louis Rams' Tre Mason Will Compete to Start over Zac Stacy
Few might have seriously considered Tre Mason a threat to start over Zac Stacy right away for the St. Louis Rams, but Mason has other ideas. Apparently the Rams coaches do too.
Coaches want the rookie Mason to compete right away, according to tweets from SBNation.com's Ryan Van Bibber from the NFL Rookie Symposium.
Being told you will compete to start after being drafted is one thing. Actually seeing that become a reality is another. Still, we buy this has legs...mostly because of Mason's legs that helped him break Bo Jackson's rushing record at Auburn.
Stacy had a successful rookie year, nearly rushing for 1,000 yards, but he was a volume back. Mason's presence impacts the volume, and the rookie's breakaway talent makes him a real threat to opposing defenses...and Stacy.
Sell: QB Derek Carr Is Pushing Matt Schaub to Be Oakland Raiders' Starter
All right, enough of the running back carousels. Let's get to some other, more important positions. How about Oakland Raiders head coach Dennis Allen's statement to the San Francisco Chronicle's Vic Tafur, "Everything is written in pencil"?
That is just feeding the Bay Area's thirst for headlines with second-round rookie Derek Carr. We have to sell this one because Matt Schaub is a veteran capable of buying the Raiders some time with their quarterback of the future (i.e. not present).
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson said the right things to Tafur, even if he was surprisingly honest, noting, Carr has been "better than we thought he would be":
I really, really like him. Everybody knew he was accurate, but he is more accurate than we thought. ... We'll have to wait and see how he does against a live rush, but so far his intelligence, accuracy and quickness in getting the ball out has been excellent. ...
... We drafted a pretty good player. He is very intelligent, and he may not need to redshirt. We like his comfort level. Right away, you can see that this is not too big for him. ... He has looked very comfortable in his drops. That is not a concern.
Olson's quotes are common refrains of most recent quarterback draft picks. We will sell the fact Carr starts in Week 1 only because Schaub has proven something in this league before, and time is on the rebuilding Raiders' side.
Sell: Houston Texans Wide Receiver Andre Johnson Wants Out
Andre Johnson is not happy Ryan Fitzpatrick is currently atop the Houston Texans depth chart at quarterback—not to mention the Texans missed out on all the top quarterbacks in the draft. Who wouldn't be? We all are save for the Texans' opposing defensive coordinators.
Johnson is not expected at the Texans' mandatory minicamp next week, according to the Houston Chronicle's Brian T. Smith. Still, we will sell the fact the well-paid and past-his-prime Johnson collects checks from anyone but the Texans this year.
Johnson makes too much money to be traded or released. He is too important to the Texans' expected shaky passing game. The receiver might be unhappy with losing and not getting a top quarterback to work with, but he is in no position of leverage at this stage of his career.
Buy: New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski Is on Track for Week 1
Last but not least, we come to a bit of buzz I saw in person at a Rob Gronkowski youth football camp outside of Boston early in June. Gronk is bouncing around and looking far healthier this June than he was at the same time last year.
Then, in OTAs, The Boston Globe's Ben Volin witnessed the same surprising spryness out of the oft-injured tight end, reporting: "He was actually bursting, planting, and cutting during the early portions of Thursday's practice open to the media, and doesn't look like he's having any limitations."
I attended the Gronk youth clinic held by Pro Camps in 2013 and 2014—as a media member, not a little sparky. The difference between what Gronk was able to do with the kids in successive years was worlds apart. Last year, he was in a sling after another arm surgery and struggling to get in and out of his chair for pictures due to recovery from back surgery.
This June 1, he was jogging around the field freely, playing quarterback in touch football games and even jumping high into the air to do a "Gordy Bump" with his oldest brother, Gordon Gronkowski.
"That was like the weakest jump I have ever done," Gronk told me afterward. "You call that nervous. That's not even close to being dangerous in my book."
Gronk has confidence in his recovery from major knee reconstruction. The kids do too. They didn't bother to ask him when he will be back on the field.
"No, none of them asked," Gronk said. "I remember last year, though, they all asked, 'When you going to be out (there).' I am not lying. Not one kid this year has asked, 'Are you going to be back.' ... Which is cool I don't gotta answer that to the kids."
It won't stop us from asking, but that doesn't mean we wouldn't buy his chances to play Week 1, Sept. 7, at the Miami Dolphins.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, was the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this past season. He is now an NFL featured writer here. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.
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