Eric Karabell Football: Insider

Andre EllingtonChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesAndre Ellington gained 10 or more yards on 24 of his 118 carries last season (20.3 percent).

The top running back for the Denver Broncos last season was supposed to be hotshot rookie Montee Ball, but instead, forgotten veteran Knowshon Moreno stepped up in August, showed he could block effectively and produced by far the greatest season of his NFL career, thanks in no small part to the presence and ability of quarterback Peyton Manning. Still, it was a major surprise. Moreno was a 14th-round selection in ESPN average live drafts, but he finished a stunning fifth at his position in standard scoring. Moreno, now on the Miami Dolphins and certainly not expected to achieve the same success, was a clear and surprising breakout, seemingly near the end of a disappointing career in his fifth season. Instead, he posted career bests across the board. So, who's next?

After focusing on the breakout quarterbacks, it's time to check out the most important of fantasy positions, the running backs. Whereas most fantasy teams aren't even looking for a breakout quarterback, because there are certainly more than 10 capable starters for 10-team formats, the running back depth is weak, and we're all looking for help. Several running backs will break out, and your job is to identify them in the middle to late rounds. As with quarterback, I'm leaving out all rookies. We're not so much concerned with age -- could be 22, could be 29 -- but we're searching for those who might have previously been incapable of earning opportunity or failed to seize it when it arrived. Perhaps you're not thinking about them much, and that's precisely the point, because past disappointments and complete unknowns do shock us on occasion.

Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let’s analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, certainly the February battle against the Seattle Seahawks couldn’t have gone more wrong for Peyton Manning & Co., but the Broncos have renewed interest in that return trip to the biggest game of the year. The Broncos made several upgrades on defense, but what about the record-breaking offense, which will rely on a few new members? Wide receiver Eric Decker got big money from the Jets and was replaced by veteran Emmanuel Sanders, while running back Knowshon Moreno also made the decision to follow the money to the AFC East, heading to Miami. Second-year man Montee Ball should do just fine replacing Moreno. The Broncos realize Manning won’t be around forever -- two more years? -- and the sense of urgency around the organization is good for fantasy production.

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let’s analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, the second offseason of the Andy Reid era was a pretty quiet one, leading many observers to predict the Chiefs are due for major regression this year. After all, the Chiefs went from two wins and the first overall draft pick to 11 wins and a playoff berth (watch out for this year’s Houston Texans!), but even that was misleading since the team lost six of its final eight, including the playoff game, after a 9-0 start. The offensive line protecting Alex Smith lost several key pieces and wide receiver help was not brought in. If the Chiefs are going to win double-digit games again, others will have to step up. The team did draft a few interesting defensive pieces -- the Chiefs figure to boast one of the top fantasy defenses again -- but offensively if new running back De’Anthony Thomas or quarterback Aaron Murray are needed this fall, then that’s a problem.


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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let’s analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, you might have heard about this at some point, but running back Ray Rice is in some legal trouble. We don’t need to get into it here -- this is a fantasy football blog -- but since Rice was coming off a miserable statistical season, what’s also new is that nobody would call him a surefire first-round pick in fantasy anymore. Rice had been a consensus top-five fantasy running back for years. Last year, while averaging a poor 3.1 yards per carry and scoring only four touchdowns, he was barely top-30. Yep, Donald Brown, LeGarrette Blount and Rashard Mendenhall scored more standard fantasy points than him. Rice has reported to camp a bit lighter, healthier (had a hip injury) and certainly motivated, but will the league allow him to play in all 16 games? A suspension could be looming. In addition, Gary Kubiak was brought in to run the offense and a few veteran performers were signed, led by former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith and former Houston Texans -- where Kubiak was coach for eight seasons -- Owen Daniels and Justin Forsett. Still, this offense needs Rice to play well. Last season, the Ravens were 29th in total offense and 25th in scoring. Talk about a Super Bowl hangover!

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let’s analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, this is the first head-coaching gig for Mike Pettine, and let’s just say that while he has yet to coach a game, it certainly hasn’t been boring so far. Former Houston Texans RB Ben Tate is the new lead running back. Magical cornerback Joe Haden is sticking around, and the team eschewed offense early in the draft to get another shutdown corner, Justin Gilbert. QB Johnny Manziel came later in that first round, and that’s going to be an adventure for sure, on and definitely off the field. It has been already. And then there’s the organization’s No. 1 fantasy player and last year’s No. 1 fantasy wide receiver. What’s new is unfortunately nothing new for Josh Gordon, as he might not be permitted to play at all.

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let's analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What's new? Well, the Bengals franchise and their starting quarterback seem to be a bit too much-maligned from a real and fantasy aspect. After all, this team won 11 games and the division title last season and has qualified for the playoffs three consecutive seasons and quarterback Andy Dalton, for all his faults, did end up as the No. 6 overall fantasy performer last season and fifth at his position. Is that enough? Can he and the team do it again? Certainly these questions are debatable. Each coordinator has bolted the Queen City for a head -coaching job, with the Jay Gruden offense now in the hands of former Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson and the Mike Zimmer defense being managed by Paul Guenther. There are repercussions in each case, as Jackson figures to run a quicker-tempo offense that should help everyone, while Guenther's defense is likely still top-10 for fantasy owners. Oh, and the Bengals added a notable quarterback and seemingly impactful running back in the draft to cause some fuss, too.

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let's analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What's new? Well, much like the rival Seattle Seahawks, who topped the 49ers to get to the Super Bowl, the spring was about contract situations and making key players happy. For San Francisco, that meant a brand new historic deal for quarterback Colin Kaepernick, one that was pretty controversial since it featured the most guaranteed money for anyone in the sport, and it will surely affect others. Whether Kaepernick, with his 23 career starts, is really worth that type of investment is quite another issue. Coach Jim Harbaugh is still waiting for his money, which couldn't possibly be an issue moving ahead, right? As for actual changes to personnel, the 49ers' draft looked like a clear win, and fantasy owners will want to become interested in running back Carlos Hyde, and soon.

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let's analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What's new? Well, it might seem like the biggest offseason storyline for this franchise after its eventful draft, but it's really been about quarterback Sam Bradford and left tackle Jake Long rehabilitating from serious knee injuries. Bradford appears well on pace for preseason action, while Long's outlook for Week 1 is a bit more problematic. The Rams need these guys, but relying on a quarterback and his key blocker is nothing new for NFL teams. For the Rams, however, it's tough to see them succeeding in the league's toughest division without Bradford and Long. The Rams acquired several new faces through the draft, but generally on defense.

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let’s analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, Year 1 of the Bruce Arians experience went well, as the Arizona Cardinals won 10 games, only the second time the franchise achieved that total since the mid-1970s. It wasn’t good enough for the playoffs, however, and key losses on defense could prevent a repeat. On offense, the main loss is hardly a critical one, as leading rusher Rashard Mendenhall unexpectedly retired at 26 years old to pursue life, love or whatever isn’t linebackers diving at his knees. In theory, that should vault second-year jitterbug Andre Ellington into clear RB2 territory, but the Cardinals seem intent on some kind of timeshare with a larger fellow. After all, Mendenhall was pretty ordinary last year -- except for the eight rushing touchdowns -- as he averaged a paltry 3.2 yards per carry, and still Ellington never saw 20 touches in a game. So what’s new for the running back situation is Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer appear firmly in play for attention, whether fantasy owners like it or not (and they certainly do not).

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let's analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What's new? Well, this is the first summer anyone could call the Seahawks defending Super Bowl champs, and that's indeed a very new and good thing. Of course, with January and February success come greater expectations moving ahead and salary increases for many, and as we've seen in past seasons, the champs rarely thrive the following campaign. The Seahawks rewarded coach Pete Carroll with a terrific new deal, kept critical pieces of the top defense in Richard Sherman and others happy with their checkbook and the wide receiver corps should be deeper, presuming health for a certain lightning rod of talent. What's also new is the potential for a running back committee … OK, maybe not a true committee, but everyone seems to agree Christine Michael is a future star in this league, so watch out, Marshawn Lynch owners.

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let's analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, not a whole lot, unless you don’t consider a new head coach, new starting quarterback and new stud wide receiver significant. Coach Lovie Smith didn’t waste time placing his stamp on the offense, coveting Josh McCown in free agency and naming him starting quarterback over sophomore Mike Glennon. Smith and McCown have a relationship from their recent Chicago Bears days. There’s also perhaps a running back by committee looming here, which is new and generally unwelcomed by fantasy owners, especially the ones owning Doug Martin in their keeper leagues.

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let’s analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, Drew Brees is still here, but a few of his weapons are new. Since nobody seems too concerned about Brees dropping off statistically anytime soon -- he owns four of the seven 5,000-yards passing season all-time and should add to it -- that creates opportunity for others. Darren Sproles is an Eagle and Lance Moore a Steeler, meaning the Nos. 4 and 5 fellows in terms of receptions are gone. Then again, this doesn’t seem to be much of a problem. The Saints chose a wide receiver in the first round of the draft, and depth at running back was already strong.

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let's analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, ask the doctors! If their newest reports on the health of several key Falcons are strong, notably wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, then a franchise that sank from 13 wins in 2012 to a measly four last season should be back on track. Lots went wrong. Quarterback Matt Ryan ran for his life behind a suspect line and had little past Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez to throw to; running back Steven Jackson was hurt and didn’t start producing until the final six weeks; and don’t even ask about the leaky defense that surrendered more yards than all but four teams. But now everyone has a clean bill of health, right? It’s all good! And so are expectations.

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let's analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, on the surface it’s hard to find too many franchises that had a more challenging offseason. The quarterback underwent significant ankle surgery, his best offensive tackle retired and good luck trying to name the wide receivers now that longtime franchise producer Steve Smith was sent packing and ended up in Baltimore (get ready for that Week 4 clash!), and the other options landed elsewhere. Then again, Cam Newton is expected to be ready for July training camp, in plenty of time for the regular season, and the organization doesn't believe he has lost a step. Newton's former left tackle Jordan Gross has ample time to relax, and there remains concern about who steps up, but Newton isn't exactly the prototype pocket passer to start with. And wide receiver, well, it's really not so bad, after all.

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let's analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, start with the organization’s future quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater, secured by a new coaching staff with the last selection of Round 1. Mike Zimmer will run things as head coach while Norv Turner handles the offense, and really, when you throw in arguably the best running back in the game and an electric wide receiver entering his second campaign, that should be enough to inspire the masses. Expectations shouldn’t necessarily be sky-high this very season, but they could be relatively soon. After all, the running back isn’t getting any younger (as if any of us are).

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