One of the best things about the world of fantasy football is the constant flux. In order to help you out with the situations you need to be watching this season, here is an A-to-Z list of important storylines. Understanding them could lead to dominance, while ignoring them altogether will almost certainly put you at the bottom of the barrel.
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A - Atlanta without Gonzalez - For the first time in 17 seasons, Tony Gonzalez will not be on the field. Someone will need to step up and fill the void in the passing game. Levine Toilolo seems to be next in line at the tight end position, but don’t overpay for short term fixes as it is more likely the Falcons spend their early picks next year to upgrade their offense.
B - Baltimore’s backfield - Ray Rice seems to have already hit the wall as he averaged just 3.1 yards per carry and scored a measly four touchdowns last season. Bernard Pierce wasn’t any better as he battled a shoulder injury. To make matters worse, Rice will likely be suspended, and Pierce had shoulder surgery. Add in fourth round rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro to the mix, and anything can happen. My money is on Pierce rising to the top and returning to 2012 form with Taliaferro being the change of pace back of the future.
C – Cleveland’s three rings - The addition of Johnny Manziel, the Josh Gordon suspension and the uncertainties at the running back position make for a captivating three-ring circus in Cleveland. Keep your eye on the running back position. With Ben Tate’s issues staying healthy in the past, it opens the door for highly productive Terrance West and talented but troubled Isaiah Crowell.
D - Detroit’s dominant offense - How do you react when your quarterback has three straight seasons with 4,650 passing yards or more? Get him more weapons! The addition of Golden Tate and Eric Ebron to the already stacked cast makes Detroit’s offense a fantasy gold mine. Ebron is a future stud in this offense and has top-five tight end upside.
E - Eric Decker playing for the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets - The Jets have been a fantasy wasteland over the past few years but added Eric Decker this off-season. Historically speaking, a good receiver on a bad offense still produces at a WR3 level or better. I’m guessing Decker will be better than the worst case and will push for WR2 value for years to come.
F - Future of the running back position - Teams are devaluing the running back position and implementing more spread offense components into the NFL. What will happen in a few years? Just about every true bell cow in the league will enter the 2014 season at age 27 or older. Will they be replaced by younger studs or is the committee approach here to stay?
G – Gruden, part two - Out with Shanahan, in with Gruden; Jay Gruden, that is. What will this mean for the offense and the future values of potential studs like Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris, Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed? Most will be fine, but I have concerns about the long-term value of Morris. His role could decrease in the near future.
H - Houston has a problem - It’s not good when you have no true starting quarterback, and your star receiver wants out of town. This is good news for the prospects of Arian Foster, who was on pace for 1,900 total yards before getting hurt last season, but not so much for those hoping for one last brilliant spark from Andre Johnson.
I - Indy with a hobbled Wayne - Reggie Wayne is 35 years old. Historically speaking, receivers that old don’t come back from ACL injuries - that leaves a major hole for young stud Andrew Luck. Hakeem Nicks has been brought in to compete with Da’Rick Rogers and rookie Donte Moncrief to be the future across from TY Hilton. Whoever wins the battle will be an every week starter in fantasy leagues for many years.
J - Jacksonville’s futility in the rearview mirror? - New management is turning the page on the Blaine Gabbert, Maurice Jones-Drew and Justin Blackmon era by drafting Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee. At least one of the two young receivers should blossom into an NFL star. I’m not sure they have a long-term answer at running back, but newly added Toby Gerhart will make for an adequate short-term runner.
K - Kansas City’s second year with Andy Reid - A bigger surprise than the 11-5 record the Chiefs posted last season might have been the offense’s production with Alex Smith at the helm. Jamaal Charles led the team in pretty much every category, including receiving. Someone else will need to step up to balance the offense - Dwayne Bowe and Travis Kelce are the two likeliest options.
M - McAdoo vs. Coughlin - Tom Coughlin is a traditional ground and pound coach. Ben McAdoo spent a lot of time in Green Bay’s high-powered passing game. It is an interesting clash of styles that will shape the fantasy landscape in New York for years to come.
N - No one under 6’5” allowed - Lovie Smith is in Tampa, and one of his first orders of business seemed to be creating a potent offense featuring massive targets in the passing game. The 6’5” Mike Evans and 6’6” Austin Seferian-Jenkins fit the bill. If they make the rookie transition quickly, the Bucs could turn into Chicago South, assuming they get good quarterback play.
O – One-hit-wonders or are the high-scoring Bears for real? - Marc Trestman worked his magic and made the Bears the second-highest scoring team in the NFL last season. With what might be the best receiver duo in the league and one of the most underrated running backs in the game, there isn’t any reason to expect the Bears to slow down.
P – Panthers need targets - Talk about a mess. Who can possibly join Greg Olsen as a reliable target for Cam Newton? They drafted Kelvin Benjamin, but he isn’t a complete receiver yet. Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Tiquan Underwood and Tavarres King round out the roster. This is a situation to avoid in fantasy.
Q - Quagmire in Miami after the scandal - Miami’s offensive line imploded last season. Can the Dolphins recover? I think they can as Lamar Miller very quietly averaged more than four yards per carry last year while Ryan Tannehill made some solid progress. If Mike Wallace can get on the same page, this offense has massive fantasy upside for years to come and boasts some great value picks.
R - Romo’s future in Big D - Tony Romo is 34, Jason Witten is 32 and DeMarco Murray is 26. In short, the clock is ticking in Dallas. The best news here is the addition of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Expect big things from the Cowboys’ offense, especially sneaky sleeper Lance Dunbar, who could fill Linehan’s Joique Bell role.
S - Saints have a lot of new faces - Several of Drew Brees’ favorite targets are gone or aging. Kenny Stills, Brandin Cooks, Nick Toon, Brandon Coleman, Robert Meachem and Joseph Morgan are all in the mix to step up. Watch closely because Cooks and at least one other receiver will carry major value going forward.
T - Third yearrebound? - Virtually every running back from the 2012 draft class had major issues in 2013. Trent Richardson’s struggles made the headlines, but he wasn’t the only one to disappoint. Richardson may prove to be a waste in fantasy, and Doug Martin looks more average than many want to admit.
U - Uncertainty in New England - Bill Belichick has shown fantasy owners to expect the unexpected. There is no loyalty in New England to anyone not named Tom Brady. If you don’t perform, you’ll be replaced. Long term, I like Julian Edelman and Aaron Dobson at receiver. In the backfield, don’t sleep on James White. He isn’t flashy, but he hangs on to the football and is the only running back of note with a contract past this year.
V - Vikings finally have their quarterback? - The lack of an effective quarterback in Minnesota has limited the upside of anyone not named Adrian Peterson. Teddy Bridgewater might not play a lot as a rookie, but long-term, he might allow players like Kyle Rudolph and Cordarrelle Patterson to reach their potential.
W – Will Sammy Watkins really be this good? - The top fantasy rookie in the 2014 draft class ended up in Buffalo. There were better landing spots out there, but don’t let it scare you away from this future WR1.
X - X-factor in Philly - Darren Sproles isn’t a long-term fantasy answer given his age, but how Chip Kelly uses him could impact others. He’ll be the occasional change of pace back, but more often he’ll be on the field at the same time as LeSean McCoy - this will force mismatches and open up opportunities for the entire offense.
Y - Yoda of the NFL - He might be losing a bit physically, but Peyton Manning was the best he’s ever been in 2013. A true Jedi Master of the game, he made everyone around him fantasy superstars. Montee Ball and Emmanuel Sanders step into highly productive roles this year, so owners should take note.
Z - Zac Stacy’s Role with Tre Mason in town - Zac Stacy was a very pleasant surprise for many last year when he became the featured back for the Rams. However, the Rams selected Tre Mason in the third round of the NFL Draft. Stacy didn’t hit four yards per carry, which isn’t a good sign for keeping a starting job. He’ll need to improve if he wants to hold off Mason long-term.