The Suspended: Tom Brady (4 games)
The Replacement: Jimmy Garoppolo
If Brady does serve some or all of the suspension for his role in Deflategate, we shall get a glimpse of what the post-Brady landscape will look like in Foxboro with some extended Garoppolo time. With Tom Terrific gone for their first four games (Pittsburgh, at Buffalo, Jacksonville, and at Dallas after a Week 4 bye), that is a tough stretch of games to be without the franchise leader and could result in a 1-3 record after the first quarter of the season. The appeal will be heard by Roger Goodell on June 23, so we should know more in a couple of weeks. For the time he ends up missing, downgrade everyone on the Patriots offensive unit at least a little bit. It’s too early to know what Garoppolo’s familiarity with the offense will be, or who emerges as his favorite target (Rob Gronkowski sure seems the safe choice), but I imagine players like Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, and even LeGarrette Blount (more on him later) will take a slight hit on draft day. Brady will likely take a dip towards the later rounds, so if you’re willing to carry an upside QB taken late for the first five weeks, you could build a very deep roster. It’s a make-or-break move that could pay huge rewards if the QB you rely on hits (think Sam Bradford, Russell Wilson, Jay Cutler, or even Jameis Winston) but by strengthening the running back and wide receiver positions and waiting on QB until Round 8 or later, you could end up with Brady past his bye for Weeks 6-16, and he’ll be playing pissed.
The Suspended: Josh Gordon
The Replacement: Dwayne Bowe
As we all recall, the hype machine was working overtime last year with what Gordon was going to bring to the Cleveland offense after returning from suspension. Gordon ended up producing just 303 yards on 24 catches over five games, scoring on none of them. Now, Gordon is gone for the 2015 season after a violation of the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. It’s a disappointment for such a talented player to once again be relegated to non-active status, and one has to wonder if Gordon will ever get it right for a sustained period of productive – if not prolific – play. Dwayne Bowe signed with Cleveland during the offseason, meaning the Browns replaced one wide receiver who totaled zero touchdowns in 2014, with another wide receiver who totaled zero touchdowns in 2014. Quarterback Josh McCown will appreciate having the big bodied Bowe, and he could very well become the top red zone receiving threat for a team without Gordon, and that lost Jordan Cameron to free agency. Bowe can move the chains, and may score a few times on jump balls in close, but he’s nowhere near the player who had 1162 yards and 15 TDs back in 2010. In fact, he’s scored only 13 TDs in the subsequent four seasons combined. Bowe is going in the early 14th round according to FantasyFootballCalculator, taken after the likes of Reuben Randle, Michael Crabtree, and Cole Beasley. Personally, I’d rather have Bowe because of his WR1 opportunities and upside instead of players with limited WR3 potential like those named above. McCown is a capable QB, and I think Bowe is primed for a bounce back year for his new team.
The Suspended: Le’Veon Bell (3 games)
The Replacement: DeAngelo Williams
Bell was arrested in August of 2014, and has been suspended for a violation of the league’s substance abuse policies. He will miss games against the Patriots and Rams on the road, and a Week 2 game against the 49ers at Heinz Field. Newly signed DeAngelo Williams should slide into a starter role with help coming from Dri Archer and possibly third-stringer Josh Harris, but don’t expect 25 plus carries for the 32-year old. The Steelers still have Antonio Brown, who may be the number one or two receiver in the league, plus Martavis Bryant as an emerging threat on the outside. Both of them are expected to catch passes from Ben Roethlisberger. All this means is that, while the opportunity is certainly there, the Steelers surely won’t utilize any of their RBs in the exact way they did Bell during his absence, nor will they feel compelled to seek balance when their passing attack is so potent. This will be a clear committee approach, and I wouldn’t expect any of them to get more than 12-14 carries a game.
The Suspended: LeGarrette Blount (1 game)
Yes, right, well, we all know how Bill Belichick utilizes those players with the “running back” distinction on his team’s roster. With Blount only sitting for the opener, it’s not likely that one of the back-ups has a Jonas Gray-like historic game (even, ahem, Jonas Gray) that cements their place atop the depth chart. Blount is currently being selected around the 7-9th pick of the fifth-round, which seems rather high for a Patriots back. But, Blount has certainly been productive while employed with the team, rushing for 16 touchdowns in his last 18 games with the Pats, including the playoffs. With the team ignoring the position completely in last month’s rookie draft, even despite losing both Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen to free agency, it would appear they’re comfortable with what they have in house. I love what Blount could be for the Pats this year, particularly early if Brady does miss the four games he’s slated to. If Jimmy Garoppolo relies on his running backs as expected, given that he isn’t Tom Brady, Blount could produce major stats over the first five weeks of the season. If that’s the case, you could potentially be holding a sell-high candidate that an antsy owner may want to inherit in a trade for a disappointing, higher ranked player. I won’t even speculate on a running back who might falter early, though there are some tough slates of games (see: Pittsburgh). But if a solid wide receiver like a Randall Cobb, or Emmanuel Sanders starts slowly, perhaps pouncing on them could be smart. Regardless, Blount will only miss one game, so his stock shouldn’t take too big of a hit. His back-ups look to be no worry, so if he is your guy this year, draft him in the fifth with confidence.