Over the weekend the busting and various shades of black and blue came hard and heavy, bringing with it early depression, and it’s still not even August yet. Somewhere, there’s laughter high above.
So let’s break down the breaks, and the fantasy implications. Cool? Cool.
Jeremy Maclin (torn ACL)
Impact: This was the first major blow of training camp, and it hurts even more since Maclin’s muscle rip came during a time when our calenders still tell us that it’s July, long before preseason games. Reading the stream of tweets and on-field reports Saturday afternoon wasn’t a pleasant experience, and it was easy to assume the final result of the injury long before official word trickled down. Non-contact injuries are generally pretty devastating.
Beyond the question of who steps up (see the handy heading directly below), there’s also the matter of the dynamic within the Eagles offense, and how the absence of a receiver who was the ideal complement to DeSean Jackson effects the other major playmakers. Firstly, there’s the quarterbacks, and whoever wins the camp battle between Michael Vick and Nick Foles is now left without a receiver who was targeted 122 times last year, and a red-zone threat with quality leaping ability. Chip Kelly’s offense may be many things (and not many other things), but one expectation is that he’ll maintain a high tempo with quick-strike passing. Now, his best option on intermediate throws is gone.
Then there’s LeSean McCoy. We’ve talked at length repeatedly about the running back’s potential in Kelly’s scheme, and the high volume of touches expected to come his way with an increased role as a receiver. Part of that is predicated on safeties being occupied by speed on the outside, and the middle therefore left a little more vacant. Maclin’s speed is respected, but is Riley Cooper’s? Ha.
Next man (men?) up: The fantasy impact of Maclin’s injury is wide ranging, because the question of “well, who’s stepping up?” isn’t an easy one to answer. If this was a classroom setting you’d raise your hand excitedly and say “RILEY COOPER” and maybe you’re not wrong. But god help us all if you’re right.
There’s simply little to be excited about with Cooper. Yes, he has height and therefore he shares Maclin’s red-zone ability, a trait which led to three touchdown catches last year despite minimal receptions (23). But he matches the speed of the average sloth, and getting separation is then difficult. Cooper was the first guy tapped to practice in Maclin’s old slot out wide, hinting strongly that he’ll be getting the snaps unless he’s beat out by Damaris Johnson or Arrelious Benn, and Jason Avant will remain in the slot. For what it’s worth (probably little, because Kelly), last year when DeSean Jackson missed five games, Cooper was targeted 29 times, while Avant received 38 looks.
But maybe our focus is misdirected. While Cooper may be the body standing in the space formerly occupied by Maclin, the tight ends (or at least one of them…or hell, maybe all three at the same time, often) could see the most significant increase in targets. Kelly invested a second-round pick in Zach Ertz after signing jack of a few trades and master of a few trades James Casey, while Brent Celek is a holdover from last year. Ertz is particularly intriguing as a hulking body who can be split out wide, a role the former Stanford tight end was used in frequently during his time there that culminated in 898 receiving yards in his junior season.
Unless you’re in an exceptionally deep league, right now I’d still be hesitant to invest a draft pick in Ertz simply due to the lingering uncertainty, and instead he should be closely monitored as an early waiver wire add. Meanwhile, the versatile Casey could become even more versatile, and Celek is suddenly an appealing late-round stash.
Dennis Pitta (hip surgery)
Impact: Much like Maclin, Pitta was entering a contract year. So much like Maclin, Pitta will be treated like he has an incurable disease during free agency next March, and low-balled to the point where he’s forced to either accept a far below market value contract, or one that has very little guaranteed money. This is why players holdout so often, because playing a sport that can break you and then pays busted players little isn’t very rewarding over the long run. Get well soon, Dennis.
The impact of Pitta’s absence on the Ravens’ offense is mostly, well, ugh. His usage last year was sporadic, sure, and he had as little as zero yards in a game, and as much as 125 yards. But overall, he was still targeted 94 times by Joe Flacco (only narrowly behind Anquan Boldin’s 112 targets, and Torrey Smith’s 110), and when needed he was more than capable of being that warm security solar blanket. Combine Pitta’s loss with Boldin’s departure, and suddenly the available and reliable options for Flacco are sparse.
Next man (men?) up: About those options. Ed Dickson now slides in to play Dennis Pitta, after a year when he was used randomly, but often effectively. Despite missing four games and averaging only 3.6 targets per game when healthy, including the post-season he still had four +20 yard receptions. So that’s…something.
Even if we dream the dreamiest dreams and assume Dickson can provide something about average tight end play, the concern here goes beyond him. Pitta was set to be a frequent target after the Boldin trade, which likely explains why Flacco is walking around with puppy dog eyes. Now what? Smith is great and fast and stuff, but he’s a vertical home run option. As is Jacoby Jones, which means unless someone among the ilk of Tommy Streeter, David Reed, and Deonte Thompson (or veteran signing Visanthe Shiancoe) is able to step up as an underneath/intermediate option, Ray Rice could get targeted even more in the passing game (61 catches last year). He’d also then get abused even more in the passing game, after averaging 351.7 touches over the past three seasons.
Dan Koppen (torn ACL)
Impact: So you say there’s a quarterback in Denver who’s had four neck surgeries and is only a year removed from missing an entire season, and now he’s playing behind a scrub center? Yeah, that’s not good (#analysis), though normally since he’s very much in the back half of his career and removed from his elite days (Koppen is 34), this injury would be viewed as unfortunate but still of little meaning. However, starter J.D. Walton is down and out too and is destined for the regular season PUP due to an ankle surgery, so desperate times are forthcoming.
But fear not, because the Broncos’ offensive line as a whole is still of the upper tier variety, and with his quick release and pocket sense, Manning is rarely sacked. Of his 7,793 career regular-season drop backs, only 252 of them (30.9 percent) have resulted in a sack. That’s an average of 18 per year, with a single-season high of 29 in 2001.
Next man (men?) up: Well, we know it won’t be Jeff Saturday, who is opting to remain in retirement bliss so that he can shamelessly sleep in until noon and then exist on only Pizza Pockets (what? In my mind, retirement is just a repeat of being 16 years old, just daily). Journeyman Steve Vallos was signed, putting him alongside Phillip Blake and Manny Ramirez on the depth chart. Sad violin is sad.