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5 Burning Questions: DeMarco Murray, Peyton Manning

If DeMarco Murray leaves, who will be the next man up for Big D?

If DeMarco Murray leaves, who will be the next man up for Big D?

For the committed, the fantasy football season never truly ends. While the first meaningful snap isn’t going to take place for months, the events that shape the upcoming season are fast approaching. The Combine, Free Agency and the NFL Draft will be here faster than you can shake a stick at a dog. In other words, the perceived passage of time is different for everyone just as the maximum speed at which one can maneuver an object at a dog has a wide variation. In non-ethereal terms, the party’s about to get jumping people! Let’s take a look at five questions that can have a large impact on 2015.

1. Who Will Be The Main RB Dallas?

The talent of DeMarco Murray cannot be questioned. What also cannot be questioned is the offensive line that the Cowboys have assembled. Yes, there will be some change as the ‘Boys have already voided the contract of RT Doug Free. They will be making a decision between bringing back Free or going with Jeremy Parnell. Both players graded out as above-average for 2014.

Murray, the league’s leading rusher, is now the league’s highest profile free agent running back. The Cowboys also have to figure out Dez Bryant’s expired contract. Dallas has offered Murray a contract extension. That “contract offer” would give Murray $4 million per year. To put this in perspective, the Cowboys kicker, Dan Bailey, makes an average salary of $3.2 million a year. You cannot possibly convince me Murray is worth barely $800,000 more than Bailey. Granted, the Bailey contract is ridiculous on its own merit, but that is beside the point. Murray has to feel slighted at minimum, or thoroughly disgusted at most. It will take quite a massaging of numbers and egos to get DMac back with a star on his helmet.

This now begs the question, who will be taking the bulk of the handoffs from Tony Romo? Joseph Randle has ignited the field in limited touches, but the fire he brings on the field is only surpassed by his off-field inferno. He was accused of pointing guns at people in front of children, breaking car windows open, smoking the reefer, essentially all kinds of things opposite of helping an old lady cross the street. Rumor has it that the Cowboys do not feel comfortable handing the reigns to Randle.

There are tons of free agent options at the running back position. There is also a depth of talented running backs entering the NFL in this year’s draft. Those two facts further weigh upon Murray’s probable departure from Dallas. Adrian Peterson has been linked to Dallas, if he is released. Mark Ingram is coming off a breakout year and could be seeking the money and situation Dallas can offer him. Ryan Mathews would be a solid replacement RB, granted he gets a Weapon X operation to replace his glass-lined skeletal structure. Perhaps the Cowboys invest into Melvin Gordon or Todd Gurley early in the draft.

The running back in Dallas is going to put up solid fantasy production. The offensive line is too strong for that not to happen. When that player is revealed, it will be a large domino to fall in shaping the ADP rankings of 2015.

2. Can Second-Year WRs Live Up To The Hype?

The rookie wide receiver class of 2014 performed at a historic level, not only for the NFL, but for fantasy owners. They produced two top-10 performers in Odell Beckham Jr and Mike Evans. If you expand out to the top 25, there were five rookies with Kelvin Benjamin, Jordan Matthews and Sammy Watkins joining the list. Had a hand injury not forced Brandin Cooks to the IR, he was coming on late to possibly crack the WR2 threshold as well.

Rookie wide receivers don’t come into the NFL and perform this way. Every year, the NFL draft will see a few WR selected in the first round. Every year, fantasy owners begin to froth at the idea of drafting these players. (Nearly) Every year, fantasy owners are burned by the price point and poor production of these rookies. Much to the chagrin of veteran fantasy players who have learned to not overvalue these rooks, the ’14 class came in a changed the game. Evans was selected in the eighth round. Beckham was a season-changing waiver wire pickup. Jordan Matthews was the 59th WR to come off the board. Kelvin Benjamin had an ADP price tag of 100. Absolute fantasy chaos.

Looking forward to ’15, these guys are moving from Wal-Mart to Macy’s, McDonald’s to Ruth’s Chris, direct-to-DVD to AAA Hollywood summer blockbuster! You think I’m overstating things? If you wanna be down with ODB (yeah you know me), you better take him in the first because he’s sitting with an ADP of 10.7. Before the end of the third, Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin are being taken off the board. Jordan Matthews and Martavis Bryant are still holding some draft day value in the sixth round, but it’s February and those numbers are sure to inflate. Watkins in the fourth, Cooks in the fifth, get used to the price tag for these guys.

Will the value be returned? Can Becks really repeat or improve on his prodigious rookie season? We will have to wait a while to find out, but the case of the sophomore sensations will be fascinating to watch.

3. Peyton Manning – Steeling or Reeling?

Peyton Manning, fantasy legend. Peyton Manning, the top QB off draft boards in 2014, selected in the first round of multiple leagues. Peyton Manning, through Week 12 was averaging 25 fantasy points (standard) a week. Peyton Manning, from Weeks 13-17 averaged 7 points a week.

Manning ended the fantasy season by donning his Snidley Whiplash mustache and tying us all to the railroad tracks, cackling and muttering something about a hurt quad.

The return of Manning for 2015 has not been officially confirmed. But all rumors spewing from the AP (who constantly resemble the hallways of a Junior High, so salacious!) have Peyton pegged for one last hurrah before he runs horrifically slow and awkwardly into that dark night. The unknown for Manning is the aforementioned quad injury. Was it really the cause of the late-season meltdown? Because his arm strength has deteriorated to the point where you might prefer Skinny Arms Rob Lowe in an arm wrestling contest, could his lack of lower body propulsion truly thrown off his entire game?

As of now, fantasy players are not abandoning Peyton (the way he abandoned them in the ’14 fantasy playoffs, KAPOW!). He is still being drafted right around the end of the third round. If the quad has healed and Manning can be back around the 25-point mark, players who take the risk will be laughing into championship week. Players won’t need to forfeit that elite RB1 if they want to roll with Manning this year. Of course, he could be fooling us all in an elaborate insider trader coup, where he wants Papa John’s stock to rise to an all-time high before he sells everything and retires, crippling PJ and his pizza chain!

4. Will The Raiders Free Latavius Murray?

Latavius was withering on the bench like Walter Donovan after “choosing poorly.” For whatever purpose and despite another failed season, the Raiders continued to give the ball to Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew. Both DMC and MJD brought nothing to Oakland’s offense or running game. It wasn’t until Week 12 when the coaching staff finally thought, “Hey, perhaps we should be thinking of the future and looking at some other guys.” What a concept! Week 12 was a divisional showdown as the Raiders welcomed Kansas City into the Black Hole. Murray ran like a stallion finally allowed outside the fences. He was dominant, running for 112 yards and two touchdowns. He was unstoppable…for the four times he actually touched the ball before leaving the game with a concussion.

He sat out a week with his injury, or he went Nostradamus and saw the impending 0-52 loss to St. Louis approaching and decided to have no part of that. When he returned, he didn’t duplicate the success of the KC game, but he still looked like a solid running back. In the final four weeks he averaged 91 yards from scrimmage. He was held out of the end zone, capping what could have been very strong fantasy weeks.

Coach Jack Del Rio told reporters that Latavius Murray is a “candidate” for the 2015 starting RB job. A candidate. It would appear that Master Psychologist Del Rio is totally getting into Murray’s head. Because being relegated to watching Maurice Jones-Drew run like a 42-year-old dad didn’t properly light his competitive fire. Apparently Del Rio isn’t that into guys who knock out 112 yards and two TDs on four touches. Stop embarrassing yourself Jack, and ask Murray to kneel so you may knight him the savior of the Raider offense.

5. Is Jonathan Stewart Ready To Be Top 10 Again?

Not everyone can remember a time when Jonathan Stewart was a top-15 pick in the NFL draft. Not everyone can remember the Cloverfield level of destruction he wreaked in his second season. This is because for the last four years, Stewart has wallowed in a land of mediocrity and injury. His injuries would not allow him to break the shackles of his RBBC and soar like the majestic fantasy eagle he was!

2014 started as different year/same story. Stewart went down in Week 3 and didn’t return until Week 7. Even after he had returned to the field, his production resembled the previous years’ blahness. Finally the Bye Week came for the languishing Carolina Panthers. Something clearly happened to them over the break. They returned with a hunger and the scent of a divisional title! Well of course, after they got whooped by the Vikings in Week 13. But, after that they didn’t lose a game! A large part of the success was the reemergence of a one, Jonathan Stewart. He became a weekly must start, and a DFS value pick. He averaged almost 110 yards from scrimmage over the final five weeks of the season.

Part of The Daily Show’s problem has been the timeshare with DeAngelo Williams and ultimate touchdown vulture Mike Tolbert. Next year, the smart money is on the Panthers making a move/moves to shed some of their bloated RB salary. JStew could be the only man left standing in the Carolina backfield. If his health can finally hold up, yes that’s a big if, but IF his health can hold up he could be a draft day steal. He is currently sitting at an ADP of 64. Granted, as the scenario in Carolina clears up Stewart is bound to rise, but he could still bring much value to a fantasy team near you.

Mike Wright is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Mike, check out his archivehis podcast, and follow him @ffhitman.

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