Wally Spurlin
First Annual All OTA (Organized Team Activities) Team

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Ah, it is mid-June and hope springs eternal as it is the time of year when every NFL team is tied for first place. The time for Organized Team Activities (OTA) has once again began and reports from these non-contact practices ring throughout the land as an announcement that football is back!

OK, OK with the draft having been moved back until May this year football was ‘away’ for even less time than normal. Fine, truth be told the NFL never really goes away … and we like it that way.

What has returned in full force is the daily proliferation of news and notes from all of the OTA activities throughout the country. The boys are back on the field and we get to hear (and occasionally even see) all about their exploits.

Looking past the fact that there are no pads and limited contact (yes, I know it’s supposed to be no contact), football fans are so starved for information at this point that we gobble up these reports as gospel.

Legends are born as this rookie looks awesome and is running with the first team while so-and-so looks a step slow and thick around the middle. Hand me my rankings boys … things are a changin’!

What’s that, you say? Many veterans haven’t even shown up for OTAs yet or are sitting out reps as they are rehabbing injuries or being rested prior to training camp? Bah! I’ll not hear of it and continue to wax poetic about that undrafted free agent that has ‘stood out’ in these practices.

So, it is with that in mind and with tongue firmly planted in cheek that I give you the inaugural All-OTA team!

QUARTERBACK

Newly signed Jimmy Clausen is throwing well for the Chicago Bears and his passes have zip on them. Clausen’s been languishing in Carolina for the past few years after a rookie campaign that saw him toss three touchdowns and the kid from Notre Dame is back! OK, he also turned the ball over 11 times back in 2010 but his passes lacked that early June ‘zip’ he’s showing now. That sound you hear, Jay Cutler , is Clausen closing fast!

Before we just hand the award to Clausen we must take a trip to the great northwest where one Terrelle Pryor has made as much progress as anyone to date in OTAs. Yes, the former Oakland Raider is now plying his trade for the Super Bowl champs and bringing his career 12 total touchdowns against 14 total turnovers with him. On the heels of getting divorced, Russell Wilson now has to deal with the magic legs (Pryor averages more than 6.0 yards per carry) of the former Buckeye.

The Winner: Sadly, the quarterback position has actually been pretty quiet as far as the big three rookies (Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater) making any noise thus far in training camp so we’ve moved down the scale a bit. No, we’re not counting pictures of everything that Manziel does on a minute-by-minute basis as news.

Do I smell another Elvis Grbac/Trent Dilfer situation brewing (see what I did there?) in Seattle? Terrelle Pryor, come on down and grab your trophy.

RUNNING BACK

Rarely has such praise been heaped on a running back class that for the second year in a row failed to have a name called in the first round of the draft.

Tennessee’s Bishop Sankey has ascended to the top of many rookie drafts above the likes of Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans . Amazingly he is doing this while being unable to attend OTAs due to the late date of University of Washington’s graduation.

That’s more of an indictment on the underwhelming and plodding Shonn Greene than it is an endorsement of Sankey. While Sankey is out of the news until late June, there have been reports touting the arrival of other rookie running backs.

Cincinnati’s Jeremy Hill has all but been anointed as the starter alongside Giovani Bernard and the death knell for BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ Bengals and fantasy career. The coaches haven’t said anything to this effect but ‘reports’ have Hill and Bernard as the top two running backs for the Bengals.

Word out of Cleveland is that third-round draft selection Terrence West is taking first team reps as the newly signed Ben Tate sits out 11-on-11 drills. With Tate’s injury history, there is talk that the Browns will make it a point to have West ready to be the bell cow back should history repeat itself. Fellow rookie Isaiah Crowell has returned to practice and will also be pushing Tate for playing time if he can keep his off-the-field problems in check. Tate isn’t worried about losing his starting role but he isn’t practicing much either.

Heads may be spinning in St. Louis as rookie Tre Mason stated in late May that the coaching staff told him that he’d be competing for the starting job. That doesn’t quite jibe with head coach Jeff Fisher stating in late March that incumbent starter Zac Stacy would, “probably be that 70 percent of the carries guy.” Hmm … I suppose the ‘probably’ in Fisher’s statement could be opportunity to compete for Stacy’s job that Mason mentioned.

We’ll finish off the running back position with a quick whip around some of the latest ‘news.’ Christine Michael has looked great in Seattle, and the Seahawks will run a running back by committee this season. Hang on a minute. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell meant to say that they would run a running back by committee in OTAs not the regular season.

Ah, that makes a bit of a difference, so now Marshawn Lynch is back on track to be the workhorse running back in Seattle. As for the rumored thoughts about retirement that Lynch may have? Maybe he has been reading how awesome Michael has looked. Lynch came to his senses and showed up for mandatory mini-camp on June 17. Smart move.

Ray Rice has lost weight but gained a looming suspension in Baltimore while Bernard Pierce is still recovering from shoulder surgery. Veteran Justin Forsett could be in line for significant carries and we do not care. Seen that movie before and it does not end well.

Don’t look now but Lamar Miller is the No. 1 running back for the Miami Dolphins and is looking good in OTAs, leading head coach Joe Philbin to note, “He’s had a very good camp.” On second thought, don’t look at all because we heard all of this last year in the preseason and then Miller was a dumpster fire as a fantasy option … next.

In Oakland, veterans Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden are battling to be the No. 1 RB running back Early reports have revealed that head coach Dennis Allen is toying with the idea of using Jones-Drew on punt returns and McFadden on kickoff returns. Yeah, using aging players with a recent history of injuries is always a good idea in the return game. Thanks for keeping us smiling, Oakland. We can always count on you for that.

The Winner: We could have gone on for three more pages with ‘updates’ as to who is looking good and who is not, but why bother when we’ve already mentioned the man taking home the trophy? The Cleveland Browns may as well place Ben Tate on Injured Reserve now and give the rock to Terrence West because he is our ‘All-OTA’ running back selection. Oh, what the heck. Give him the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, too, and save some time.

WIDE RECEIVER

Let’s just get the veterans out of the way quickly because it’s really the youngsters that warm our cockles (yes, I brought out a ‘cockles’ reference) heading into a new season.

In Indianapolis, Reggie Wayne has been cleared for football activities and is on track to start the season on time while Percy Harvin in Seattle has stated, “this is probably the best I’ve felt since before college.”

In Carolina, Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery are running as a starting duo at wide receiver. I’ll refrain from the obvious “Grumpy Old Men” joke here.

The New York Jets coaching staff hasn’t given up on Stephen Hill but fantasy owners should go ahead and do so. In Cleveland, the big wide receiver news hasn’t happened as of this writing and it is simply waiting for the shoe to drop with the number of games that Josh Gordon will be suspended for.

New York Giants wide receiver Rueben Randle believes that new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s offense will be more suited to his game. It had better be because the yearly optimism regarding Randle having his ‘breakout’ year is waning.

In Oakland, the wide receiver position bears a striking resemblance to the running back situation as veteran James Jones has come over from Green Bay to join the underwhelming group in place. The name garnering attention thus far is Andre Holmes, who looks to be climbing the depth chart after playing well late last season. If newly signed quarterback Matt Schaub can remember what color his teammates are wearing this season, that would be a boost.

In Chicago, space on the Marquess Wilson bandwagon is going fast. The kid has stayed out of trouble and added 20 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame. With Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte all in the mix for receptions they must be intending to allow quarterback Jay Cutler to toss two footballs at a time this year.

After there were 12 receivers taken in the drafts first two rounds, there is no shortage of information flowing in surrounding the youngsters.

Sammy Watkins is expected to revitalize the Buffalo passing attack but early reports are that he and quarterback E.J. Manuel are having problems hooking up on red zone fade patterns. Sure it’s only June but dammit we don’t like any negative reports!

In Tampa Bay, Mike Evans is expected to step right in as a big red zone threat and while we haven’t heard anything from OTAs that confirm this, he is 6-foot-5 so it makes sense. Career backup Josh McCown looks to be the starting quarterback for the Buccaneers so we may want to temper our expectations, but not in June!

A lot of folks (myself included) are excited about rookie Brandin Cooks joining the New Orleans Saints’ potent passing attack but a late graduation date has kept him from attending OTAs and we’ll have to wait for any updates on his role. Dang it!

The Jacksonville Jaguars brought a pair of rookie wideouts on board that are expected to step in and contribute quickly. And in typical Jaguars fashion both Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson have been injured and are missing valuable OTA reps. Lee suffered an ankle injury that had him sitting out and Robinson suffered a hamstring injury that will force him to miss a few weeks.

With Justin Blackmon still suspended indefinitely, that leaves Cecil Shorts as the main game in town once again. One can only chalk these wide receiver maladies up to what I believe is the ‘not signing Tim Tebow curse.’

In Philadelphia, there will be a changing of the guard as DeSean Jackson was shown the door and moved on to division rival Washington. Jeremy Maclin is looking to rebound from his ACL injury while Riley Cooper is supposedly working on refining his blocking skills. The excitement here surrounds rookie Jordan Matthews, who has looked very good in shorts and shells. He has looked so good that last week on Rotoworld the following was posted. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jimmy Kempski opines that Eagles second-round wide receiver Jordan Matthews has “looked like the best receiver on the team” during OTAs, “and it hasn't been close.” OK, then.

The Winner: Move over Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant! Jordan Matthews is tearing it up on an offense that will lead the league in offensive snaps (It’s June … I can say this). He is looking better than a rehabbing Maclin and downfield blocking option Riley Cooper. Works for me!

TIGHT END

Most of the pertinent news surrounding the tight end position is taking place off of-the-field with injuries and holdouts grabbing the headlines. The holdouts of note are New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham as awaits a hearing on his position designation (and how much money he can get) and San Francisco’s Vernon Davis. Davis is looking for more money (knock me over with a feather) and has skipped OTAs while hinting that he’ll show up for mini-camp or maybe won’t.

Dustin Keller and Jermichael Finley are attempting to return from significant injuries and back to fantasy relevance, but may not be signed until teams can be fully satisfied that they are indeed healthy.

New England’s Rob Gronkowski is spending yet another off-season recovering from injury and the timetable for his return is still a bit iffy. The latest news has been encouraging for Gronkowski but his availability for week one is still in doubt.

While he is not generating the buzz in OTAs that his rookie teammate Jordan Matthews is, Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz is receiving plenty of hype. He is supposedly working on his blocking in order to garner more snaps this season and move into a solid TE1 role. With his main competition for playing time, Brent Celek, due $4 million this year, there was speculation that Celek could be released in a money saving move. That did not happen so Ertz may have to wait another year to become ‘the guy’ at tight end for the Eagles.

Baltimore’s Dennis Pitta is garnering a lot of attention this season as he will be healthy and remain the apple of quarterback Joe Flacco's eye. Baltimore also added veteran (read old) Owen Daniels, who is familiar with new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s offense. Daniels hasn’t played a full season since 2008 and will not threaten Pitta’s production.

With wide receiver Josh Gordon facing an indefinite suspension in Cleveland, the drum is being banged long and hard for fourth-year tight end Cameron Jordan. Fantasy owners can even forgive Jordan the seven games last season that he failed to reach 45 yards receiving as he looks to be the main game in town (sorry Miles Austin , Nate Burleson and Andrew Hawkins ) for whoever lines up at quarterback for the Browns.

In San Diego, the buzz surrounding Ladarius Green continues to get louder. The Chargers are looking to get faster on offense. The words fast and Antonio Gates have not belonged in the same sentence for years. Green could press the future Hall of Famer Gates for the starting role and put up excellent fantasy numbers and has been picked by Union-Tribune San Diego’s Michael Gehlken as a ‘break out’ candidate for 2014. Now if the coaching staff would only cooperate and make the move to the younger Green we’d be in business!

The Detroit Lions selected tight end Eric Ebron with the 10th pick overall last May in an obvious “If we can’t stop opposing offenses then we’ll try and outscore them” move. Ebron will have to try and catch quarterbacks Matthew Stafford ’s eye early and often while contending with Calvin Johnson , Reggie Bush and Golden Tate for receptions. Oh yeah, the Lions also re-signed tight end Brandon Pettigrew and still have Joseph Fauria at the position as well for 2014. That’s a lot of mouths to feed.

Fellow rookies Jace Amaro (New York Jets) and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins (Tampa Bay) are expected to make noise this season but have incumbents Jeff Cumberland and Tim Wright, respectively, to beat out for significant snaps. Of the two, Amaro has the best chance to wrest away the starting gig but historically rookie tight ends don’t put up great fantasy production.

In Green Bay, bad boy Colt Lyerla has the opportunity to become the No. 1 tight end but must prove he has left his off-the-field problems securely in the past. Think Clint Eastwood in “The Unforgiven” repeatedly saying “I ain’t like that anymore.”

The Winner: “We come here not to bury Antonio Gates but to praise him.” Nah, we are burying him in the avalanche of Ladarius Green love! It’s time for Green to step up and send the old man packing. Thanks for the memories but there is a new sheriff in town!

Obviously, there is an underlying level of sarcasm and humor running through this piece. Or at least there was intended to be.

Nobody respects the job that beat reporters (and all NFL scribes for that matter) do in getting as much information to the public more than I do, and my cap is eternally tipped to these hard working individuals.

What I am trying to stress here is that OTA reports as well, as much of the information that filters out in May and June must be taken with a grain of salt. Jobs are not won and lost unless season-ending injuries (Sean Lee) or suspensions ( Daryl Washington ) occur and even then it is too early to determine who will ultimately step into their roles.

I certainly encourage all fantasy owners to keep abreast of reports regarding how players are doing prior to training camp but not put too much emphasis on each and every blurb.

There is plenty of time between now and most fantasy drafts so patience is indeed a virtue while we are starved for any and all news football related. There is a great quote from the movie “An American President” by Michael J. Fox’s character that is talking about people’s need for leadership. I’ll break it down as to how it applies to our beloved sport/hobby.

“People want leadership (in this case NFL news) Mr. President (all fantasy football owners), and in the absence of genuine leadership (concrete roster and role in the offense/defense information), they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone (folks just throwing names around and possible roles on teams because they want their names out there). They want leadership (real, researched and valuable fantasy pertinent news). They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert towards a mirage (start reading anything they can, wherever they can find it), and when they discover there is no water (it’s too damn early for the majority of this news to effect draft day), they’ll drink the sand (Kool-Aid).”

Please, my friends. Exercise patience right now and do not drink the sand.

Wally Spurlin is a Fantasy Football Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writer Association. Follow Wally Spurlin on Twitter @Walton Spurlin


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