BREAKING NEWS: Coaches and general managers often lie. There’s little incentive for them to be forthcoming about player evaluations and roles, especially in the offseason when competition is the uniform mantra.
So as we look for clues, it’s more important to take note of what teams do rather than what they say. The actions in the draft spoke louder than words. Your veteran winners, from a fantasy perspective:
1. Charles Johnson, WR, Vikings
There was some doubt as to whether the Vikings would be comfortable going into the season with Charles Johnson as an every-down player opposite Mike Wallace. Those doubts have been erased. The only draft pick the Vikings used at the wideout spot was a fifth-rounder on Maryland’s Stefon Diggs, a long-term slot man and return specialist. Johnson, the 6’2/215 specimen with 4.38 speed and a 39.5-inch vertical, is ready for a leap along with Teddy Bridgewater in Norv Turner’s vertical offense. Note that the Vikings passed on Bridgewater’s former Louisville teammate DeVante Parker at No. 11 overall, instead taking Michigan State CB Trae Waynes.
2. Darren McFadden, Ryan Williams, Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, RB, Cowboys
When I laid out fantasy’s depth chart holes back in February, Dallas’ No. 1 running back spot stood out. Perhaps the draft’s biggest surprise was that the Cowboys came out with no one at the position. So what we know is that we have a dominant offensive line ready to open run-game holes for a team that finally escaped mediocrity in 2014 by ranking third in the league in rush attempts (31.7 per game). What we don’t know is who will be running through those holes. I’d actually consider Randle the favorite for early-down work as the incumbent who averaged 6.73 YPC last year. ESPN Dallas reported in January that there are people within the organization who believe Randle can be a 1,400-yard rusher (no word on if those people were drunk). If healthy, Ryan Williams will be a major threat to the underwear thief. McFadden is the change-of-pace backup and Dunbar the strict passing back.
3. Dwayne Bowe, WR, Browns
The 2014 wide receiver draft class was the best in NFL history. The 2015 class won’t be far behind. Yet the only wideout the Browns have selected in either draft is underwhelming Washington State product Vince Mayle at 123 overall on Saturday. It’s a gross oversight but also a little vote of confidence in new No. 1 man Dwayne Bowe, who at least has the physical makeup to excel. He’s a good bet for 4-6 catches per game this season even though the Browns – in an effort to hide Josh McCown/Johnny Manziel -- will be trying to ground-n-pound all day.
4. LeGarrette Blount, RB, Patriots
In the fifth round, the Patriots took a long snapper who has ongoing obligations to the Navy. They used none of their 11 picks at RB despite moving on from Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen this offseason. Bill Belichick clearly wasn’t worried about the position, where Blount will dominate big-back duties. In Blount’s last 18 games as a Patriot (including playoffs), he’s scored 16 touchdowns.
5. Alfred Morris, RB, Redskins
In full disclosure, I have not liked Alfred Morris ever since run-game savants Kyle and Mike Shanahan left our nation’s capital. That said, I can’t deny that it’s been a good offseason for Alf’s stock. Roy Helu left in free agency, leaving a big hole for a passing back that can also spell the starter. That role will only be filled by third-round Florida rookie Matt Jones. “Alfred won’t be affected,” coach Jay Gruden said. “Alfred is the running back here. He’s had three great seasons and that won’t change. … For the most part Alfred will be getting the bulk of the carries.” Morris will also benefit from the arrival of offensive line guru Bill Callahan and No. 5 overall pick RT Brandon Scherff.
6. Andre Ellington, RB, Cardinals
At this time last year, the Cardinals were talking up Andre Ellington as a workhorse back. That proved to be a failed experiment, as the undersized Ellington battled injuries and showed diminishing returns on his increased workload (3.28 YPC). So this offseason the narrative in Arizona was that they needed a big back, leading to rumors of an Adrian Peterson trade or a move for Todd Gurley in the draft. None of that happened, as only David Johnson was added in the third round. He’s big (6’1/224), but is more of a space back that doesn’t pound between the tackles. In other words, he’s insurance to Ellington and not someone that will steal a big chunk of work. After the draft, Bruce Arians confirmed the incumbent “will continue in his same role.”
7. Josh Hill, TE, Saints
The Saints – and specifically offensive schemer Sean Payton – have been talking up Josh Hill as a player they love ever since the season ended. That started to make a bit more sense after Jimmy Graham was traded away. It became even more obvious once the Saints selected no tight ends in the draft, somewhat surprisingly skipping over Maxx Williams at No. 44 overall. They also selected no wideouts with any of their nine picks. So even though the Saints are going to be more about running the football and playing defense than ever before, we still have Hill as an athletic, talented tight end that will be a major red-zone weapon for Drew Brees.
8. Latavius Murray, RB, Raiders
We heard rumors in free agency of the Raiders going after DeMarco Murray. Instead they ended up with Roy Helu and Trent Richardson. The Raiders also selected no running backs in the draft even though there were a whole bushel of quality options. It’s a major vote of confidence in Murray, a player new OC Bill Musgrave is planning to “tailor” his run game to. For more on Murray’s outlook, check out my Coaching Change Winners from back in February.
9. Charles Sims, RB, Bucs
The Lovie Smith regime did not draft Doug Martin. They also didn’t pick up his 2016 fifth-year option and rumors have swirled that he’s on the trade block. This regime did draft Charles Sims (in the third round last year) and are reportedly very high on him. They backed that faith up in the draft by passing on T.J. Yeldon or Ameer Abdullah at the top of the second round and also letting Tevin Coleman and Duke Johnson roll past in the third. It leaves Sims with a potentially large role this season on a team who will have improved quarterback play with Jameis Winston, and should have improved line play with Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet. At the very least, Sims will get 10-12 touches as the passing back and change-of-pace man. At most, he’ll be featured for something closer to 16-18 touches.
10. Marvin Jones – Injuries resulted in a lost 2014 for Jones. But the Bengals clearly remember his 2013 when he was a big-play machine, scoring 10 touchdowns on just 80 targets. Jones is penciled in opposite A.J. Green after the Bengals ignored wideout in the draft, only taking a seventh-round flier on grossly undersized Mario Alford.
12. Brock Osweiler – The Broncos know Peyton Manning is nearing the end of the line, yet they’ve only used a seventh-round pick on a quarterback since Osweiler was drafted (Zac Dysert, 2013). An extension should be coming for Peyton’s heir.