WR Allen Hurns, Jacksonville
We’ve certainly discussed Hurns here at FakePigskin (here and here), so I won’t bore you with yet another breakdown. Just know that Hurns’ preseason explosion was eye-opening, and his Week 1 production was easily enough to convince me he’s at least a dynasty stash. But to pinpoint his long-term prognosis, let’s examine his competition:
|Games as Jaguar||Signed Through|
In other words, Hurns likely only needs to stay a step ahead of two (thus far) inconsistent rookies to remain a notable part of the Jaguar offense. Shorts looks like a part-timer whom I consider a fairly long shot to return to Jacksonville next year. With his ball skills and instinctive big-play ability – and the trust he seems to have from his quarterbacks – I see him as a viable WR4 target with WR3 potential in dynasty leagues. He’s not Julio Jones, but he’s not JuJuan Dawson, either.
WR Markus Wheaton, Pittsburgh
To step in and replace the play of former Steeler split end Emmanuel Sanders, Wheaton pretty much just needs to show up. And show up he has. Wheaton tormented Browns rookie CB Justin Gilbert to the tune of a 7-6-97 line, which included two key snags on the Steelers’ game-winning drive. Ben Roethlisberger has talked up the blazing Wheaton for some time, and Ben has never been shy about peppering young and gifted receivers with opportunities. In addition to his speed, Wheaton brings polish and instinct to the table – check out his preseason touchdown against Buffalo’s Stephon Gilmore – he’s here to stay. The vastly inferior Sanders was shoehorned into the game plan all over the field in 2012, and with the Steelers in the midst of turning over their young receiving corps, it’s very safe to expect a big role for Wheaton. The passing game still runs through Antonio Brown, but Wheaton looks like a WR3/4 at the moment with real WR2 potential in dynasty formats.
Ben Tate has injured his knee yet again. While there’s no early word as to the severity, his inability to return to Sunday’s comeback effort spoke volumes. Even if Tate has escaped major injury, it served as a reminder of his fragility, and the admirable fill-in performances by rookies West and Crowell (5-32-2) should excite you. Both are strong dynasty buys, especially West, whose one-cut running style fits Kyle Shanahan’s zone scheme quite well.
West had an uneventful preseason but has ability and the team’s confidence. He looks to be the team’s bell cow of the future, at least for as long as Shanahan is running the offense. I wrote a piece on Crowell yesterday – the short version is that he’s been brimming with running ability since being the nation’s top high school RB recruit and SEC Freshman of the Year, but was an inconsistent producer in school and fell into the undrafted ranks. He reminds me a lot of Christine Michael, and is similarly blocked from the field by backs who have drawn higher investments.
There’s a lot to like about his long-term value; I think he’s the most gifted back on Cleveland’s roster, and that includes the overrated and perpetually questionable Tate. This may not be the time or place for Crowell’s talent, but he has the potential to be a sheer stud down the road, and note that Shanahan afforded Crowell a supplement of red zone touches in his NFL debut. Crowell is more talented and less scheme-dependent than West, so do with that what you will. My money is on West emerging as the Browns’ next feature back, and Crowell seeing situational touches before becoming an interesting name around the league in 2015.
RB Lorenzo Taliaferro, Baltimore
With Ray Rice likely vanquished from the sport, don’t lose sight of rookie Taliaferro, who racked up 1,884 scrimmage yards and 29 touchdowns in his final year at Coastal Carolina. He’s currently third on the depth chart, but it’s hard to love the long-term value of either Bernard Pierce or Justin Forsett. Pierce has taken the look of an inconsistent plodder, and Forsett is a journeyman scatback nearing 29. On a physical level, Taliaferro projects fairly well to the NFL, as RotoViz points out, and the team gave him plenty of preseason opportunity (a league-high 65 rushes) to show his wares.
He’s not the kind of phenom talent who will demand a long, hard look from Ravens coaches based on his physical gifts. The opportunity, however, is coming quickly, and Taliaferro does have the look of a versatile, experienced back in both the running and passing games. Don’t bet your life on the guy, but stash him quickly; this post-Rice backfield is short on talent and dynamism, so the touches could start coming any day.
TE Jordan Reed, Washington
It’s always a bummer to include a guy on one of these lists due solely to injury, but Reed fits that bill. He was a revelation as a rookie; extrapolate his nine near-complete games from last year, and you have a golden 88-974-6 line. Reed’s outlook has been ballyhooed over quite a bit this offseason by his Quarterback, Offensive Coordinator, and local pres. On the field, he looks poised to join the ranks of the Jordan Cameron/Julius Thomas crop of dynamic, versatile young Tight Ends. The red flags, however, are enormous and scary.
Already a nerve-wracking dynasty option due to a whopping four concussions over his last four seasons, Reed hurt his hamstring on Sunday, and the team is preparing for a long-term absence. (He injured himself while hurdling a defender, a move for which I would gleefully bench and/or fine a player under my coaching.) He also dealt with a sprained thumb, a hip pointer, a knee contusion, and a troublesome quad contusion as a rookie.
I’m not a fan of declaring a player “injury-prone” due to a few (even several) dings, but some guys are simply wired for injury. Maybe their tissue is weaker, maybe they seek out too much contact, maybe it’s none of the above, but one thing is for certain: concussion cases like Reed are terrifying long-term prospects as they sort out the cumulative effects of brain injuries. Don’t sell Reed for peanuts as he oozes TE1 ability, but he’s no longer a blue-chip dynasty prospect. Given what we know about concussions, he’s not a buy-low option, either.
WR Aaron Dobson, New England
At some point, the Patriot Mystique has to go away, especially in the wide receiver arena where the team simply cannot identify talent. For fun, let’s examine the Patriots’ history in drafting early Wide Receiver talent under Bill Belichick:
|Year Drafted||Round Drafted||Receptions w/ Team|
Dobson has traits we love: he’s big and fast and sure-handed with a penchant for difficult catches. But a lingering foot injury is always troublesome – ask the toughest man in history, Jack Lambert. Opening the season as a healthy inactive is even scarier. The Patriots have enough passing game options that they’re unlikely to force him into action, so Dobson is squarely in the HOLD category — quite a tumble from his coveted dynasty position of a month ago. Quite frankly, I’m not sure I prefer Dobson as a dynasty guy over last year’s undrafted semi-standout, Kenbrell Thompkins.