Fantasy 5: How soon will Marcus Mariota return to the field?
Jeff Ratcliffe breaks down the top fantasy headlines to start your week, including the prospects of Marcus Mariota's return.
Fantasy 5: How soon will Marcus Mariota return to the field?
There are 114 days remaining until the start of the NFL season. Sure, that seems like a lot of time, but is it really? Before we know it, July 4 will be here — that means less than two months until fantasy drafts. In other words, if you haven’t started prepping now, you’re behind.
Let’s get you up to speed on the key news from the NFL over the weekend.
1. When will Titans QB Marcus Mariota return?
This is one of those questions that we’ll likely be asking all summer. With Mariota recovering from a broken leg, there have been rumblings that he could miss the entire preseason. However, it sounds like the Titans will have Mariota at least in some capacity during OTAs, which start next week.
This is a crucial period for Mariota to get on the same page with Titans rookie receivers Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor. Davis was selected with the fifth-overall pick in April’s draft and figures to slot in immediately as the Titans’ No. 1 or 1a option along with Rishard Matthews.
Mariota finished 2016 as fantasy’s No. 10 quarterback, though that number is a bit deceiving. From Week 5 to Week 12, Mariota was the No. 1 fantasy quarterback. During that span, he threw a position-high 21 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He also rushed for 242 yards and two scores. Provided his recovery has no hiccups, Mariota is a borderline QB1 with potential elite upside this season. He’s currently coming off the board in the early ninth round as the 13th quarterback in early ADP.
2. Jaguars QB Blake Bortles’ throwing motion is improving.
So says new Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone, at least. To be more precise, Marrone said about Bortles’ throwing motion, “I think improved, there’s no doubt about it.” He has no doubt that he thinks it’s improved. Very convincing.
Sadly, it’s the time of year when all the tropes come out to play. One of the most common NFL tropes is “Failing quarterback fixes all flaws,” or something to that effect. While it’s certainly possible that Bortles has improved his mechanics, he needs to actually display these improvements. Seeing is believing, in this case.
Bad mechanics aside, Bortles has remarkably finished as a top-10 fantasy quarterback in each of the last two seasons. He isn’t a sexy fantasy pick by any means, but should be in the mix for the late-round QB crowd. He’s currently the 21st quarterback in ADP, which would cost a mid-13th round pick.
3. Is Bears WR Kevin White finally healthy?
Boy, I sure hope so. Bears head coach John Fox said White is having a good offseason and seems to be recovered from the fractured fibula that landed him on injured reserve last year. White has rare size-speed traits, with sub-4.4 wheels and a 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame. However, the former seventh-overall selection has been a huge disappointment, missing 28 games over his first two NFL seasons.
However, there have been signs of potential. White played in the Bears’ first four games last year and saw 34 targets over that span. While his 187 yards and zero scores leave plenty to be desired, a per-game workload of 8.5 targets is certainly appealing.
The general consensus among the fantasy community is that Cameron Meredith is the top wideout in Chicago, though he’s going just three spots ahead of White in current ADP. Not to knock Meredith, but from a pedigree standpoint, he doesn’t hold a candle to White. Meredith went undrafted in 2015 after converting from quarterback to wide receiver at Illinois State. He flashed major upside last year with four 100-yard games, but also displayed a low floor with five games of two-or-fewer catches.
Neither Meredith nor White warrant early-round consideration at this point — both players have their downside. At the same time, they each offer potentially high fantasy ceilings that make them ideal darts to throw at their current ADP in the 10th round.
4. Browns QB Cody Kessler to have first-string duties in OTAs.
As far as shockers go, this isn’t one. But at the same time, it’s worth our attention after the Browns spent a second-round pick on former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer. Kessler currently sits ahead of Kizer, Brock Osweiler, and Kevin Hogan on Cleveland’s depth chart.
There isn’t much value in Kessler from a fantasy standpoint. However, fantasy players should keep a close eye on the quarterback situation in Cleveland. Kizer is a raw prospect, but his dual-threat ability bodes well for fantasy success. That being said, he’ll be a very boom-or-bust option if he manages to get starts in his rookie year. He’s unlikely to be a redraft option in the short-term, but Kizer could certainly surface as a DFS play and would have value in two-QB leagues.
5. Know the name: Corey Clement.
It’s rare that we pay attention to rookie undrafted free agents, but Eagles running back Corey Clement deserves our attention. The former Wisconsin back signed with the Eagles and has a chance of making the roster. The Eagles currently have a somewhat undefined depth chart, with Darren Sproles currently sitting as the lead back.
Sproles has never carried the ball more than 100 times in his career and is extremely unlikely to do so in his age-34 season. Ryan Mathews is still on Philadelphia’s roster, but all indications are that he’ll be cut loose over the summer. The Eagles also have Wendell Smallwood and draft pick Donnel Pumphrey, who has a similar profile to Sproles.
Clement isn’t a special player, but his size (5-foot-10, 220 pounds) is something the Eagles lack elsewhere in their backfield. Smallwood appears to be the favorite to see early-down work, but Clement will get the opportunity to show what he can do in camp. He isn’t likely to surface on the short-term fantasy radar, but it’s still advisable to file his name away just in case.
Jeff Ratcliffe | Director of Fantasy
Jeff Ratcliffe is the Director of Fantasy at Pro Football Focus. He produces all of our projections and is 2016's second-most-accurate ranker in the fantasy industry. Jeff also is the host of our show on SiriusXM fantasy sports radio and is one of the main hosts of our Fantasy Slant podcast.