July is almost here, and so is Christmas in July. A time created to celebrate the nearing of the most wonderful time of the year, football season. With another NFL season on the horizon, many fantasy fanatics are beginning to get revved up for what they hope is a championship season for their cyber squad. Fantasy players all across the country are making their positional rankings, mock drafting and hanging on every word that scrolls across the NFL Network bottom line in preparation for Week 1.
But if you want to hoist that trophy this year, you have a lot of work to do before those first games kick off. That is where I come in. Here are 10 players I believe you need to keep your eyes on during training camp and preseason. Take a look at these gift-wrapped presents. Come December you will be glad you did.
5 Players who will make every Sunday a holiday
– Currently Ball is in the driver’s seat to be the starting running back on one of the more dangerous offenses in the league. Just last week the Broncos released Willis McGahee from the team, and running backs Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno seem better suited as change of pace backs. Should Ball be able to capitalize on his situation, the rookie could end the year as a top 10 back. The Broncos are looking to be quicker on offense this season, which could lead to more plays and scoring opportunities. Also, Peyton Manning has never been shy about checking into a running play near the goal line, and Ball knows how to sniff the end zone with 77 rushing touchdowns in his career at Wisconsin. The key for this former Badger back will be learning how to pass protect at the pro level. Keep an eye on him throughout training camp and preseason.
Shane Vereen – Everyone knows that coach Bill Belichick can’t be trusted to reveal any relevant fantasy information, so the New England Patriots’ plans are usually revealed through training camp and preseason games. Keep an eye on Shane Vereen. With a lack of receiving weapons, I expect the Patriots to continue to move in the direction of relying on the ground game. Starter Stevan Ridley had an impressive season last year, but struggled with fumbles. My thoughts are that if Ridley continues to cough up the football, Belichick will have no problem plugging in Vereen, who will already get a good amount of work on passing downs due to the departure of Danny Woodhead. Vereen could end up paying huge dividends.
Jeremy Maclin – What will the Chip Kelly offense look like for the Eagles? If Kelly’s system can work, the talent is there for this team to pay investors off handsomely. One guy to keep an eye on is Jeremy Maclin. In a contract year, I expect Maclin to assert himself as the No. 1 receiving option on this team. While DeSean Jackson is extremely talented, his play seems to be trending in the wrong direction as he has seen drops in yards and touchdowns for four straight years. Watch this Eagles team leading up to the season. If they show promise and an ability to work well with Kelly’s new system, give Maclin a chance.
Aaron Dobson – As many believe, Rob Gronkowski could begin the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, which would leave him sidelined for the first six weeks. Add to that the fact that 118 receptions from last year walked away from this team to join Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. This leaves a major question mark as to who is going to be catching Tom Brady’s passes. Sure the Patriots signed Danny Amendola, but he has been plagued by injuries the past few seasons. I believe Aaron Dobson could be a sleeper pick this season. With excellent size and speed, Dobson could be the vertical threat the Patriots have missed the past few seasons. While he is still raw at the wide receiver position, Tom Brady has a knack for elevating the play of his receivers. Just ask Troy Brown and Deion Branch. Still not convinced Dobson is for you? Check out his highlight reel back hand grab against East Carolina in college. If Dobson can work hard in practice and get a spot in the starting rotation, this guy could produce instantly.
Ahmad Bradshaw – Sure, Ahmad Bradshaw has more screws in him than the tin man, but this guy is one of the toughest players in the NFL. Bradshaw did have another procedure done to his foot, but I look at it as just maintenance as he had a screw replaced in his foot. Injuries aside, I believe this guy still has something left in the tank. He is only 27 years old. He is coming off another 1,000-yard rushing season, and turned in his highest yards-per-carry average last year since 2009. Should he enter minicamp without any setbacks and win the starting running back spot over inferior competition from Vick Ballard and Delone Carter, you could get top 20 numbers from a guy drafted around the sixth round.