The offseason is in full swing and boy am I bored. I know you are too.
Since the draft is over and a solid number of free agents have been signed, we can now step back and take an early look at the body of players as a whole. From this wide angle we can come up with a very preliminary look at which skill players might be in a position to contribute come the regular season. Right now all we can really identify are any players who are in a position to be on the field for a substantial amount of time, essentially the starters and backups. The bottom of the depth chart deserves an eye too, since fortune plays such a large part in the regular season. If a team is struck with one or two injuries, unknown players can suddenly become fantasy contributors.
As we are still many months from any real idea of who will be in the final 53, this will be a sort of master list of (in my eyes) potential fantasy relevant players. Some of these guys are no brainers and some of them are just camp bodies with a couple headlines but we can start to look for some surprises too. I’m not yet seriously looking at how important these guys will be because we’re not far enough into the offseason, but we can still keep an interested watch on these players and do some light speculating as we head into training camp.
Let’s take a look at the prospects team by team. I’m startin’ at the bottom and heading up the 2012 standings.
Alex Smith is the new starter in Kansas City. The Chiefs cleaned house after a disastrous 2012 under Romeo Crennel and installed (freshly ousted from Philly) Andy Reid. Matt Cassel made a hasty exit (now behind Christian Ponder with the Vikings) after several sub par years so the Chiefs traded a second round pick to San Francisco (which was then flipped to Tennessee who selected Justin Hunter) with a conditional third round pick in the 2014 draft to acquire Alex Smith. At this point in his career, Smith is a true veteran. He spent seven seasons in San Francisco working with a clown car’s worth of offensive coordinators. Under the older Harbaugh for the last two seasons, Smith put a ridiculously efficient career best 2011 season, completing 61.3% of his passes for 3144 yards and 17 TDs with a league low 5 INTs. His 2012 campaign ended midseason with a concussion and he was famously replaced by Colin Kaepernick for the rest of the season. The Chiefs, who notched a league high 27 QB turnovers last year have brought in a new QB who protects the ball well (no multiple interception games in 2011) but to date Smith hasn’t put up the consistent big numbers (his best season clocked in at about 220 points in 2011, placing him in the QB14-18 range depending on scoring) that warrant fantasy ownership. This offseason though Smith has asked Andy Reid to let him throw it around a little more and Reid has been pushing Smith to be more aggressive in practice. If Reid can help raise Alex Smith to become the player he was drafted to be in 2006 the Chiefs could end up with a solid QB from a much maligned trade. If there would be any point in his career to do it, now is the time. He’s got a QB minded offensive coach, a solid looking offensive line and the keys to the kingdom. Smith might just surprise us. One hard cap on Smith is the muddy receiving situation in Kansas City. Dwayne Bowe is a great asset to any QB but after him we don’t yet know if the rest of the cast will step up. Training camp will settle the roster and adjust Smith’s value based on how solid his WR corps looks. With a few good receivers, Charles out of the backfield and a pass catching TE to step up, Smith would have all the parts he needs to deliver in KC.
Daniel went undrafted out of Missouri before signing with the Redskins as an UDFA. He didn’t make the Redskins final roster in 2009 and latched on with the Saints one day later. Daniel evidentially performed well for Sean Peyton and rose to be the back up to Drew Brees for three years. His contract with the Saints ran out last season and in March Daniel signed a cushy three year deal worth $10 million ($5 million guaranteed) to back up Alex Smith. Right now it looks like Daniel is the sure number two guy in KC and has a golden opportunity to train with a premier QB-minded coach. If Alex Smith goes down (say, with a concussion) Daniel would have to step up and the Chiefs show their confidence through his signing. We don’t truly know how good he is since playing behind a perennial top QB in Drew Brees generated only 9 career passes for draftniks to look at. Daniel did have a productive college career at Missouri, passing for over 12,000 yards and 100 TDs across his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. His completion percentage rose each of those seasons as well, going from 63.5% to 68.2% and 72.9% his senior year. He ran the ball quite a bit as well, totaling 325 carries. The only way Daniel could see substantial field time would be if Smith completely bombs or is injured. For the moment Daniel is ignorable but is someone to watch.
The Chiefs drafted Stanzi out of Iowa in 2011 apparently as a developmental QB. Last season he was in the competition to back up Matt Cassel but lost out to Brady Quinn. He was a fairly productive QB in college with 2,417 YDs (56.3%) with 17 TDs and 15 INTs in 2009 (also leading Iowa to an Orange Bowl Victory over Georgia Tech) and 3,004 YDs (64.1%) 25 TDs and 6 INTs in 2010. So far, Stanzi has yet to prove that he’s made the jump to the pro level. He’s thrown 18 passes in three preseason appearances, connecting on 9 of them and adding 2 interceptions and 2 fumbles. Stanzi looks unlikely to contribute at all this season and might not even make the active roster come fall.
Bray skipped his senior year at Tennessee so he could throw his name into the 2013 draft. Despite several ringing endorsements as one of the top QBs available this year, he fell completely out of the draft. The Chiefs quickly scooped him up as an UDFA. Bray has a big arm, a big frame and is regarded as a natural arm talent but needs some major development. He could end up as the 3rd string guy in KC but is unlikely to produce much for fantasy owners. Down the line he could be a name to watch since he’ll be developing under Andy Reid and Alex Smith.
Not a lot of discussion here. Smith is the man, Daniel has the clipboard. Smith could serve as a QB in deeper leagues come fall and has some upside depending on how Andy Reid uses him. Reports so far are positive but at this stage in the offseason, all reports are positive. Chase Daniel would be the (unnecessary) handcuff. Stanzi and Bray will battle for the third string and owners can likely ignore them.
Charles is a beast. Coming off a 2011 ACL tear Charles put up over 1500 yards on the ground (career high) despite frustrating, inconsistent use by Crennel and Co. After five seasons, Charles is the ALL TIME NFL LEADER in yards-per-carry (5.8). The next RB on the list is Bo Jackson (5.4). In 2009 Charles racked up 1,120 yards on 190 carries. His best year came in 2010 with 1,467 yards on 230 carries, averaging 6.5 YPC. The ACL injury knocked him out of the 2011 season early but in those two games he averaged 6.9 yards per carry on 12 carries. He’ll be nearly two years removed from the ACL injury at the start of this season and fully healthy. Hopefully Alex Smith will add a competent passing game to the offense which would ultimately help to open the field for Charles. On top of his otherworldly running ability, Charles should also see a boost in his receiving numbers as the team has mentioned his skill as a receiver several times this offseason. Under Andy Reid, Brian Westbrook racked up 73 catches in 2004, 61 in 2005, 77 in 2006 and 90 in 2007. LeSean McCoy caught 78 passes in 2010, 48 in 2011 and 54 in 2012 where Charles caught 40 in 2009, 45 (career high) in 2010 and (with 2011 a lost season) 35 in 2012. Charles seems to be a focal point for a retooled offense and should lock down the RB1 slot for any fantasy owner. Injury risk does need to be acknowledged but the potential is as high as any other RB in the league.
Draughn, like Chase Daniel was signed to the Redskins as an UDFA before getting cut from the final roster before the 2011 season. A month later, the Chiefs signed Draughn to the practice squad and eventually bumped him to 3rd string in 2011. Last season he had 59 carries and a couple of TDs. Draughn could end up as the RB2 and main backup but he won’t have an easy road. Charles is likely to eat up most of the snaps anyway.
The Chiefs picked up Knile Davis in the third round of the 2013 draft. Davis is big and fast (5’10”-227 with a 4.37 40 and 31 bench reps at the combine) but has been riddled with injuries his entire career. In 2010 he turned out 1,300 yards and 13 TDs for the Razorbacks, leading the SEC. He missed the entire next season with an ankle injury. Davis did return for a junior year in 2012 but produced only 377 yards and 2 TDs on 112 carries. If Davis can stay on the field, he could be in line for a handful of RB2 carries and does have the skill to produce on them. He looks to be the front runner for the job behind Charles (who was also a third round pick) and could be a draft worthy handcuff for Charles. Davis sits as a player to watch in the future but could make a rookie fantasy impact if Andy Reid decides to run the ball a lot. Davis is not worth drafting until we know more but if you want to grab Charles, keep an eye on Davis this offseason.
Gray had two productive years at Texas A&M (200-1133-12 in 2010 and 198-1045-12 in 2011) and was picked in the 6th round of the 2012 draft by the Chiefs. Gray was close to the bottom of the depth chart his rookie year but saw action in 10 games and got to carry the ball seven times. He’s got speed (4.47 40) and can reputedly catch and block. If he’s improved his game in the past year he could end up 3rd on the depth chart. Gray is unlikely to have a fantasy impact unless a lot of guys go down.
Roberts is a DII machine that went undrafted despite very good numbers during his time in Charleston. He did well at a regional combine (4.49 40, 28” vertical, 29 bench reps) and received an invite to a Chiefs minicamp where he apparently showed enough skill to warrant a contract. He’d very likely be buried on the depth chart for the coming season as he makes the tough jump from DII to the big leagues.
Sherman came to the Chiefs a couple of weeks ago via a trade with the Cardinals. He mainly contributed on special teams in Arizona and has only 1 carry and 13 passes to date. He certainly won’t have a fantasy impact.
Opurum played his college ball near Kansas City at the University of Kansas. He played several positions across 4 years and had decent success at DE, LB and RB. The Chiefs are giving him a shot at FB.
Charles is a stud and a clear top-10 pick. His handcuff looks to be between Knile Davis and Shaun Draughn (who might split the duties anyway), with Cyrus Gray at the cutoff. We won’t know more about the rest until camp.