What I’m doing here is going team-by-team and taking a look at each team’s roster situation at the four key offensive Fantasy Football positions (QB RB WR TE). I’ll also be speculating on a few potential off-season moves we could see each of these teams make.
|NFC East||AFC East|
|NFC North||AFC North|
|NFC South||AFC South|
|NFC West||AFC West|
Ryan Fitzpatrick received a contract extension through 2017 during this past season, so he’ll be given every chance to succeed as the starter going forward. Tyler Thigpen is signed for another two seasons to back him up. There are no other quarterbacks on the roster, but a rookie/camp body will be brought in to compete for the No. 3 job.
Entering a contract year, Fred Jackson returns from IR to take back his spot atop the running back depth chart, but his role will likely decrease from the absurd workload he saw prior to his season-ending injury. C.J. Spiller emerged as a capable back while Jackson was out and so it’s a strong bet that he’ll get a larger piece of the pie in 2012. Tashard Choice is an UFA and is unlikely to return. He’ll hunt down a No. 2 job elsewhere. Johnny White is the favorite for the No. 3 job and Bruce Hall will push him for the job.
Stevie Johnson is an UFA, but odds are that the Bills bring him back with a multi-year extension. No team uses the 4+ WR set more than Buffalo, so being strong at this position is key. That could mean upgrades via the draft and/or Free Agency, as well, when you consider the injury troubles this unit struggled with in 2011. Donald Jones and David Nelson are both under contract for another season, but Roscoe Parrish and Derek Hagan are impending free agents. Nelson and Parrish both handle slot duties, so Parrish is expendable. The team has already said that they’d like to bring Hagan back, but he isn’t a player you’d want playing 60 snaps per week. They do like Jones, but he didn’t quite live up to expectations when he replaced the traded Lee Evans as a starter and suffered a pair of multi-week injuries. Brad Smith will return to his “slash” role. Marcus Easley is a name to watch as he has loads of potential. He missed all of 2011 with a heart issue, but it appears to be all cleared up. He’s a darkhorse for the starting Z job should the team not add a big name to the lineup. Ruvell Martin is gone as a UFA, but Kamar Aiken, Naaman Roosevelt, and Futures contract signee David Clowney will be in camp.
Scott Chandler is an UFA, but the team will try to bring him back. His role was clearly increasing as the season progressed, but an injury quickly ended that emergence. Lee Smith ended 2011 on IR, but should be back as the blocking tight end. Mike Caussin is a receiving prospect and will compete for the No. 3 job. Kevin Brock and Fendi Onobun could also be in camp.
Unless the team lands Peyton Manning, Matt Moore is likely Week 1 starter in 2012. He’ll be entering a contract year, so he’ll look to solidify himself as the team’s long-term answer at the position. Chad Henne is an UFA and likely heads elsewhere. JP Losman was the team’s No. 2 QB down the stretch in 2011, but he’s not a guy you want under center if Moore were to go down. Pat Devlin is also on roster, but a better candidate for the No. 3 job…at least for now. Look for Miami to use a draft pick on a quarterback. If they don’t, they’re turning the team over to Moore for the near future and will simply add a veteran to man the back-up role. Kyle Orton is a logical fit.
Reggie Bush proved in 2011 that he can handle a decent-sized workload. He’ll get that chance again next season, but second-year back Daniel Thomas will be right there pushing for carries. The team’s next head coach will have a lot to do with how they’re used, but one would imagine that Bush will be the more involved of the two. The Dolphins also have the rights to Lex Hilliard and he likely gets tendered. Steve Slaton could be on his way out as a UFA.
The team will be looking to upgrade at the wide receiver position despite the fact that their top four options at the position are under contract through, at least, next season. Brandon Marshall’s spot in the starting lineup is as safe as they come, but both he and Davone Bess are possession receivers. Brian Hartline isn’t scaring defenses as a deep threat, which is why the team drafted Clyde Gates in 2011. He’ll get a chance in camp to compete with Hartline, but doesn’t project as an elite talent. The better bet is that the team will look to the early rounds of the draft or Free Agency for the answer. DeSean and Vincent Jackson, Brandon Lloyd, Pierre Garcon, and Robert Meachem are among those who fit the bill. Roberto Wallace, Marlon Moore, Julius Pruitt and Futures contract signee Chris Hogan will each be in comp looking for a reserve role.
Anthony Fasano heads into a contract season looking to fend off second-year H-Back Charles Clay. Clay isn’t your traditional in-line tight end, but will push Fasano for snaps. The team also has the rights to Jeron Mastrud, who could return as a blocker. Will Yeatman is behind Mastrud on the depth chart, but plays the same role.
New England Patriots
Tom Brady is signed for another three seasons and his status is unchanged. He’s the clear starter. The team does have two talented options behind him on the depth chart and it’s possible they use one as a trade chip. Brian Hoyer will be tendered as a Restricted Free Agent. Ryan Mallett is signed through 2014 and is less likely to be moved.
Stevan Ridley seems to have taken over the top spot on the tailback depth chart late in the 2011 season, so the second-year man will be the favorite to hang on to the job next season. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is an UFA and could be on the way out with Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead still under contract. Still, Bill Belichick loves his rotation at the position, so it’s possible BJGE returns if the price is right. Kevin Faulk is an UFA and his extremely limited role this past season means he’s likely gone.
We are going to see some changes here with Wes Welker and Deion Branch both set for Free Agency and Chad Ochocinco struggling to fit in. If Welker doesn’t get a long-term deal, he’ll get the Franchise Tag, so there are no worries there. If he were to get away somehow, Julian Edelman would be the favorite to pick up his snaps. However, a free agent like Marques Colston, Eddie Royal, Steve Smith, or Danny Amendola could be targeted. The more likely scenario is that Welker returns and the team will be looking to replace Branch and probably Ochocinco, as well. They’ve already been connected to Brandon Lloyd, but keep an eye on Reggie Wayne, as well. Tiquan Underwood allowed the team to waive Taylor Price last season, so he has a shot to make the roster as a reserve wideout. Matt Slater is an UFA, but could be brought back to help on Special Teams. Dorin Dickerson and Britt Davis are currently on the Practice Squad.
Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are the only two tight ends on the roster and both are signed through 2013. The team will bring in some camp bodies to compete for a blocking role, but there won’t be many snaps to go around.
New York Jets
At the time I’m writing this, the Jets’ players are ripping each other left and right via Twitter and other media outlets. This includes taking shots at Mark Sanchez, who still has a pair of seasons left on his contract as the team’s expensive starting quarterback. It’s likely that the team finds competition for Sanchez via a veteran free agent (Kyle Orton? Chad Henne? Jason Campbell?), but they’re unlikely to land a clear upgrade, which means Sanchez will again be the favorite to open 2012 as the Week 1 starter. An upgrade behind Sanchez means UFA Mark Brunell would be out. Kevin O’Connell and Greg McElroy will compete for a job as the No. 3.
Shonn Greene finally produced a bit down the stretch in 2011 and will be the team’s workhorse next season. LaDainian Tomlinson is an UFA and is as good as gone, even if he doesn’t retire. Joe McKnight appears ready to take on Tomlinson’s role, which includes spelling Greene for a few carries a game and taking on a big chunk of the passing down work. Bilal Powell will get a shot to compete for some touches, as well. John Griffin landed a Futures contract and will be in camp.
Santonio Holmes is locked up through 2015, but the aforementioned locker room turmoil could lead to his dismissal. That would mean wholesale changes for a unit that also has to deal with UFA Plaxico Burress’ contract situation. Big names like Dwayne Bowe, Vincent Jackson, Brandon Lloyd, and maybe even DeSean Jackson will be on their radar should Holmes be cut loose. They’ll negotiate with Burress, but his departure would mean targeting players like Robert Meachem, Mario Manningham, and Roy Williams. The most likely wide receiver to return right now is actually slot man Jeremy Kerley, who seems locked into that spot at this point. Patrick Turner and Logan Payne will push for roster spots, but the team signed four wideouts to Futures contracts, which means plenty of competition. Those wide receivers are Eron Riley, Michael Campbell, Royce Adams, and Dexter Jackson.
Dustin Keller enters a contract season in 2012, but is a candidate for an extension. Matthew Mulligan helped with plenty of blocking in 2011, but is an UFA. Jeff Cumberland missed most of this past season with an injury, but was seeing a few targets every week when healthy. He’ll look to emerge in a contract season. Josh Baker and Futures contract signee Dedrick Epps will compete for a roster spot.
Follow Mike Clay on Twitter: @PFF_MikeClay