Analyzing ESPN's 53-man roster projections
ESPN did a pretty neat exercise today where it had each of its team analysts throw together an early projected 53-man roster.
It’s obviously very early in the offseason and plenty will change between now and September, but this is a great way to get an idea of who is safe, who is on the bubble, and who seems to be on the outs.
I read over all 32 projected rosters and made a note each time I came across something I found odd or interesting related to fantasy. I ended up with notes on almost every team.
My thoughts on each are below:
Cardinals – Stepfan Taylor ahead of Jonathan Dwyer
No surprise here, but it’s notable. Taylor is a threat to Andre Ellington near the goal line and would lead a committee attack should Ellington struggle or go down.
Falcons – Devonta Freeman ahead of Jacquizz Rodgers – Darius Johnson cut
Freeman is clearly superior to Rodgers, but the latter was very, very good as a receiver last season. One would think the team’s trend of using three backs (Jason Snelling retired) will continue, but Rodgers doesn’t figure to see many carries this season. He averaged 20 percent of Atlanta’s carries when Steven Jackson played last year.
Johnson missing the cut in favor of Drew Davis surprised me, so I asked writer Vaughn McClure to clarify. I’ll update this once he’s able to get back to me. (Update: Johnson was waived on July 25.)
Ravens – Jeremy Butler in as fifth wide receiver
Baltimore is going to lean heavily on its run game and on two tight-end sets with Gary Kubiak in town, so five wide receivers might be at all that. Currently, the fifth spot is up for grabs. The nod here is given to undrafted Jeremy Butler, who gets the edge on veteran Deonte Thompson and seventh-round pick Michael Campanaro. Butler is a guy only worth noting in the deepest of dynasty leagues.
Bills – Chris Gragg, TJ Graham cut
The Bills bulked up at the offensive skills positions this offseason. Gragg is well known in dynasty circles as he’s a receiving tight end in an offense with an opportunity to emerge. It looks, however, like he may be the odd man out behind Scott Chandler, Tony Moeaki, and blocker Lee Smith.
Graham hasn’t quite lived up to expectations since Buffalo selected him in the third round back in 2012. The club’s additions of Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams put his roster spot in jeopardy. Chris Hogan and Marcus Easley are his competition.
Panthers – Jerricho Cotchery ahead of Kelvin Benjamin
This might be the veteran getting the nod, but ESPN’s John Clayton suggested the same earlier this week. Carolina needs its first-round wideout to emerge as its clear No. 1 option. At age-32, Cotchery is best as a three and will have trouble producing against top corners.
Bengals – BenJarvus Green-Ellis in – James Wright over Brandon Tate
Now 29, due $2.5 million, and having been replaced by Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill, Green-Ellis’ roster spot is definitely in danger. The prediction here is that he sticks, but the suggestion is that it’d only be as depth. This somewhat makes sense as Cincinnati is going to run a lot, but I don’t think the team can justify paying him $2.5 million to handle near 80 carries, while doing nothing as a receiver or on special teams.
Wright was buried on LSU’s depth chart, but Cincinnati took a late-round flier. He’s notable in deep dynasty leagues, especially if he does, in fact, beat out return man Tate.
Browns – Brian Hoyer over Johnny Manziel – Dion Lewis in over Isaiah Crowell and Edwin Baker – Charles Johnson and Anthony Armstrong in at wide receiver
Hoyer over Manziel isn’t a shocker at this point in the offseason, but I still think Manziel wins the job during the preseason.
The Browns would be silly to expose Crowell to waivers unless he’s bad during the preseason. He’s arguably the most-talented rookie back, but off-the-field issues led to him going undrafted. Lewis sticking makes sense to me, as the team needs a plus receiver to combine with Ben Tate and Terrance West. Tate has been terrible as a receiver and blocker thus far.
With Josh Gordon likely out for the year due to suspension, there’s major opportunity at wide receiver. A seventh-round pick last year, Johnson is drawing a lot of hype and has a slot to start some games this year. Armstrong is projected to knock off Chandler Jones, with Travis Benjamin likely headed for PUP.
Cowboys – Joseph Randle in over Ryan Williams
Williams was a second-round pick by Arizona back in 2011, but he was arguably the league’s most-injury prone player during his time out west. Randle struggled badly as a rookie last year, leaving these two to face off for the club’s No. 3 running back gig. If DeMarco Murray misses time, the winner would have a somewhat-prominent offensive role.
Broncos – C.J. Anderson cut in favor of Ronnie Hillman, Brennan Clay, and Juwan Thompson – Joel Dreessen cut
Probably the biggest shocker I came across, Anderson – the player projected as Montee Ball’s backup by most analysts – is listed as a cut. Writer Jeff Legwold was kind enough to add some context. I think Anderson sticks, but it’s not going to be a walk in the park. Remember, he only had seven carries during the regular season last year. He’s far from a proven commodity. Clay, Thompson, and Kapri Bibbs are in the mix.
Lions – Jeremy Ross No. 3 wideout over Ryan Broyles and Kris Durham
With Eric Ebron and Jed Collins in the mix, and Joe Lombardi designing the offense, the Lions third receiver won’t be as busy as you might expect for a pass-first team. Still, one injury to Calvin Johnson or Golden Tate and we’re talking about a player worth rostering in most leagues. Ross is best utilized as a returner, but is projected here to knock off Broyles, Durham, and sixth-round pick T.J. Jones for the gig. If he’s healthy, I’d put my money on Broyles. The 2012 second-round pick isn’t dead in the water yet – he has plenty of ability and finally appears healthy.
Packers – Colt Lyerla cut
Lyerla is one of the most physically-gifted tight ends to enter the league this year, but – not unlike aforementioned Crowell – off-the-field issues led to him going undrafted. Green Bay has a void at tight end, however, and usually keeps four or five on the roster. It’s too early to write him off, and analyst Rob Demovsky agrees. Keep him stashed in dynasty.
Texans – Alfred Blue ahead of Andre Brown – Mike Thomas (locked in) and Alan Bonner stick over Keshawn Martin
I took a late-round flier on Blue in a few dynasty leagues. This sort of speculation is why. Arian Foster is coming off a serious injury and Brown has serious durability questions of his own. Both backs are nearing age-28. Blue was a sixth-round pick and apparently already a threat to Brown. The rookie will compete with Dennis Johnson and Jon Grimes for a roster spot. Deep leaguers take note.
Analyst Tania Ganguli surprised me by listing Thomas third on the wide receiver depth chart. I asked her to expand on her decision to put him ahead of DeVier Posey and projected-cut Keshawn Martin. She mentioned his slot abilities and the team’s affection for him. Posey and Martin were mid-round picks in 2009. Bonner was a sixth-round pick last year and is nearly the same build as Martin.
Colts – Ahmad Bradshaw over Vick Ballard
Ballard vs. Bradshaw will be an underrated camp battle worth watching because of how awful Trent Richardson has been the last two years. This is a team ready to make a Super Bowl run, which means Richardson’s leash will be short. If he’s demoted, it will mean a committee approach. The leader of the committee would likely be in for 15 or so touches per game, however, which, of course, means plenty of fantasy relevance. I think Ballard would get more carries, with Bradshaw – a great blocker- helping on passing downs.
Chiefs – Aaron Murray to IR – Frankie Hammond in over Kyle Williams and Albert Wilson – Demetrius Harris in over Sean McGrath and Richard Gordon
The prediction here is that Alex Smith, Chase Daniel, and Tyler Bray would all make the team, but Murray – a fifth-round pick – would be stashed on IR. It’s certainly a bit of a bold prediction, but Murray would have to be really bad to get waived. Think Tyler Wilson last season. The safer bet here is Murray sticking as the No. 3 at the expense of Bray.
Hammond, an undrafted free agent signing last year, gets the nod over veteran Williams and undrafted, but plenty-hyped Wilson. Hammond is quick and would help replace Dexter McCluster in the slot and on returns.
Harris has generated a bit of hype this offseason. He went undrafted last season, but stands at 6’7/230 and is developing into an all-round tight end. He’s already considered a near-lock to beat out McGrath and Gordon for the team’s No. 3 job. He’s a name to note in deep dynasty leagues.
Dolphins – Daniel Thomas in over Mike Gillislee and Damien Williams – Damian Williams and Rishard Matthews in over Armon Binns, Marcus Thigpen, Matt Hazel – Arthur Lynch and Michael Egnew in over Dion Sims
Thomas was once considered unlikely to make the team, but Knowshon Moreno’s injury woes mean the team probably wants to be more conservative at the position. Gillislee was a fifth-round pick last year, but hasn’t shown much. Williams has 4.4 wheels and is a good pass-catcher.
Projections for Miami’s wide receivers after Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline have been all over the place. Brandon Gibson is favored for No. 3 duties and rookie Jarvis Landry is the only lock outside the top two. That leaves Williams, Matthews, Binns, Hazel, and converted running back and return man Thigpen to compete for one or two spots.
Sims was a fourth-round pick last year. He’s a 6’4/265 blocking tight end. He’ll face plenty of competition from 2014 fourth-round pick Lynch, 2012 third-rounder Egnew, and Gator Hoskins.
Vikings – Matt Cassel over Teddy Bridgewater – Jerick McKinnon over Matt Asiata
Cassel is the favorite to start Week 1, but a strong preseason from Bridgewater would give him the edge.
McKinnon has a ton of ability, but is considered raw at age-22 and figures to spend 2014 in a change of pace role. Asiata will enter the mix for a few carries here and there and would have a shot to lead the team in carries in the event of a Peterson injury. McKinnon is a better handcuff.
Patriots – Aaron Dobson No. 1 at wide receiver, Jeremy Gallon cut
Dobson has been plagued with injuries since entering the league via the second round of last year’s draft, but he’s projected here to lead the New England wide receivers. If he’s healthy, there’s top-20 fantasy upside here.
In the Danny Woodhead/Wes Welker mold at 5’8/185, Gallon was a favorite of many draft pundits. He’d likely stick if Danny Amendola were to go down again. If he sticks, there’s deep-league appeal considering the offense he’s in.
Saints – Ryan Griffin over Luke McCown – Mark Ingram over Khiry Robinson
Another surprise had McCown missing the cut as Drew Brees’ backup. Instead, Griffin – undrafted last year – is projected to get the nod.
Personally, I’m on record as thinking Ingram gets a bad rap. I think he’s better than Robinson and this roster projection seems to agree. It’s a camp battle to keep an eye on, but early indications suggest Ingram will get the first shot to pace the unit in carries. Take a shot on him in the later rounds.
Giants – Peyton Hillis over Andre Williams – Mario Manningham over Odell Beckham and Jerrel Jernigan
Hillis and Williams, a 2014 fourth-round pick, will compete for a game day jersey behind Rashad Jennings and David Wilson this season. Hillis is a capable three-down back, while Williams adds quite a bit as a runner, but has struggled badly as a receiver and blocker. Early indications suggest all four backs will stick, but Williams figures to be inactive during the early portion of the season.
Manningham listed ahead of Beckham and Jernigan seems silly to me. Manningham hasn’t been an impact player in years and isn’t even 100 percent healthy. Beckham has to learn the ropes, but he can do that from the No. 3 spot. Jernigan was excellent late last season and figures to end up fourth on the depth chart. Manningham is not a lock to make the team.
Jets – Daryl Richardson and Alex Green cut, seven wide receivers stick
The league’s run-heaviest team since Rex Ryan arrived, the Jets need plenty of running back depth. This projection has them keeping only four backs, including fullback Tommy Bohanon. I expect them to keep five, which would give Richardson and Green a shot.
The Jets signed Eric Decker and Jacoby Ford, and drafted three wide receivers during the offseason. This projection has seven wideouts making the club, which would be a lot for a run-first club. Ford will likely need to earn his jersey on special teams. Stephen Hill is also a candidate to be cut if he doesn’t improve in Year 3.
Raiders – George Atkinson in over Jeremy Stewart – Greg Little, Nick Kasa cut
Oakland is going to run a lot, so undrafted speedster Atkinson should be noted in deep dynasty leagues. He’d be buried initially, but Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Latavius Murray are far from sure things.
I like to call Little the worst “per-capita” wide receiver in the league the last few years because he’s done so little with so many snaps. He’s projected to miss the cut despite competing in a relatively underwhelming wide receiver unit. Kasa was a sixth-round pick last year, but is seemingly well behind Mychal Rivera and David Ausberry.
Eagles – Matthew Tucker sticks at tailback – Jeff Maehl, Damaris Johnson, Arrelious Benn cut
Tucker making the team would be notable should LeSean McCoy miss time due to injury. Chris Polk would take over as lead “running” back, with Darren Sproles handling a few more carries and passing-down work. Tucker would push for a few snaps of his own. His competition for a job is undrafted rookies Henry Josey and David Fluellen.
The prediction here is that Brad Smith sticks as the fifth wide receiver, which leaves Maehl, Benn, and Johnson off the roster. Size freak Ifeanyi Momah and rookie Kadron Boone are also candidates for a spot.
Steelers – Lance Moore over Markus Wheaton – Justin Brown in over Darrius Heyward-Bey
A third-round pick last year, Wheaton is going to be given every shot to win the team’s No. 2 job opposite Antonio Brown. Moore will compete, but is closing in on age-31 and best suited for a situational role. Fourth-round pick Martavis Bryant seems locked in as the early-season No. 4. Darrius Heyward-Bey didn’t pan out as a wide receiver, but he was very good on special teams for the Colts last year. He’ll push 2013 sixth-round pick Justin Brown for a roster spot.
Seahawks – Christine Michael ahead of Robert Turbin, Sidney Rice cut
Michael is one of the hottest names in fantasy, especially dynasty, but the 2013 second round pick is not even locked in as Marshawn Lynch’s primary backup. Turbin held down the gig in 2013 and remains in the mix this year. This projection suspects Michael has made the leap to No. 2, and it makes sense considering his major advantage in raw talent.
Rice being left off the roster is surprising to me. He’s struggled with injuries, but he’s nearing full health and is only 27. You’re telling me Ricardo Lockette is better? I’m not buying it. If Rice is his old self, he’ll not only make the team, he’ll push Doug Baldwin for a starting gig opposite Percy Harvin.
49ers – LaMichael James, Jon Baldwin, Kassim Osgood, Garrett Celek cut
The 49ers are loaded at running back with Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Carlos Hyde, Marcus Lattimore, and Bruce Miller. James, a second-round pick in 2012, appears to be on the outs. Baldwin, a first-round bust from 2011, and Kassim Osgood may lose in a numbers game after the club added Stevie Johnson, Brandon Lloyd, and rookie Bruce Ellington.
Rams – Benny Cunningham ahead of Tre Mason – Chris Givens listed as No. 1 wideout
Zac Stacy critics have suggested that Mason could quickly work his way into a lead back timeshare, but let’s remember that he’s only 20 and wasn’t selected until the third round this past May. It appears he’s not only well behind Stacy, but also Cunningham – a 2013 undrafted free agent. Mason may turn out to be the team’s long-team lead back, but he’s unlikely to make a big 2014 impact. Pass-blocking remains a work in progress.
Givens is listed No. 1 at wideout, but it’s not too big of a deal yet. He is the favorite to work on the outside in three-wide sets, but the Rams have to be hoping Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt earn the top two jobs before Week 1.
Buccaneers – Chris Owusu favored over Louis Murphy and Robert Herron for No. 3 wide receiver job – Four tight ends stick
Tampa Bay plans to run the ball and is very deep at tight end. This means that the No. 3 wideout figures to make little impact. Still, it’s worth noting that Owusu is getting the early nod over Murphy and deep-dynasty sleeper Herron.
Second-round pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins will take some time to make an impact, but it shouldn’t be long before he passes veteran Brandon Myers and receiving-specialist Tim Wright for an every-down role. The projection also shows veteran Luke Stocker on the team, but he’d barely see the field.
Redskins – Evan Royster cut – Leonard Hankerson sent to PUP, Aldrick Robinson and Santana Moss stick
Washington added Lache Seastrunk in the sixth round of May’s draft, which puts Evan Royster on notice. Even if he sticks, Royster would be buried.
The projection here is that Hankerson will start out on the PUP list, but that, if he’s healthy, he’d make the team. That would mean one of Robinson, 35-year-old Moss, or rookie Ryan Grant would be cut loose.
Follow Mike Clay on Twitter: @MikeClayNFL