Last week I went to Dallas for the first time ever, and it wasn't to see the Cowboys. Instead, I was there for WrestleMania 32. Yes, I've been a Cowboys fan since I was eight but I had never made it to Big D, the old Texas Stadium or Jerry World (which is quite the spectacle). So while I was watching Brie Bella in her last match, Shane McMahon jumping off a 20-foot cage or Roman Reigns winning the title, I was thinking about how tough it was for WWE to put together a card without injured superstars Seth Rollins, Randy Orton, Nikki Bella and John Cena (who made a brief return but wasn't in an actual match).
NFL teams have to deal with the same sort of problem all the time.
Never was that more evident than last season, when a number of big names (including a ton of running backs) went down with injuries. So as teams navigate the NFL offseason, an important goal for each franchise is to improve on the current roster and add depth for when injuries occur. A number of those moves are made in the NFL draft, and those moves will have an effect on the world of fantasy football. With that in mind, let's look at some of the biggest "vacancies" around the National Football League and what could happen to the values of the players involved when (and if) new pieces are added.
Cowboys running back: The Cowboys added Alfred Morris as a free agent, but he inked a short-term (two years) deal. Darren McFadden has one year left on his contract, and the team gave Lance Dunbar a one-year deal coming off an ACL procedure. So, if the Cowboys love a back in this class like Ezekiel Elliott or Derrick Henry, I wouldn't be surprised to see that back selected. Of course, such a move would put a dent into the value of both veterans and cause what could be a troublesome backfield committee in 2016. Of course, the addition of Elliott or Henry could be a great long-term fantasy move.
Dolphins running back: Before you shout out the name "Jay Ajayi," how can you be excited about him when the Dolphins clearly are not? The team signed C.J. Anderson to an $18 million offer sheet (which the Denver Broncos matched), and brought in Chris Johnson and Arian Foster for visits. Does that sound like a team that has faith in Ajayi as a three-down back? I'm not sure if Elliott will still be on the board with the No. 13 overall selection, but I could see Miami drafting the Ohio State runner in a best-case scenario to fill their backfield void. Bucky Brooks agrees in his latest mock draft.
Eagles running back: Wait, isn't the Eagles backfield already set with Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles in the mix? Maybe, but there are whispers that the team could deal the former and take a runner in the NFL draft. The best option would be Elliott, who could come right in and be a three-down runner for new coach Doug Pederson. Remember, Pederson's offense leans on the run (Jamaal Charles, anyone?). In the event that the Eagles draft Elliott with the No. 8 overall pick and decide to deal Mathews, well, I could see the rookie picked in the top 20 overall selection in fantasy football drafts.
Bears running back: The fantasy love affair with Jeremy Langford started the second Matt Forte was no longer a member of the Bears, but is he going to be the new featured back in Chicago? The team extended a $19 million offer to Anderson, which he rejected to sign Miami's offer sheet, so are the Bears really in love with Langford? Time will tell, but I think the team is going to draft a running back later in the month. Furthermore, our Charles Davis has them taking Elliott with the No. 11 pick. So before you crown Langford as a breakout candidate, you might want to wait and see what happens here.
Raiders running back: I know Akbar Gbajabiamila is going to give me heck for this, but I don't think the Raiders are sold on Latavius Murray as a featured back. Sure he's young and has shown flashes of potential, but Murray was also inconsistent in the stat sheets. With Roy Helu's hip problems and little depth behind Murray overall, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Silver & Black added a running back in the draft. Which level of runner the team selects will ultimately determine Murray's fate from a fantasy perspective, but his status as a No. 2 fantasy runner could be jeapordized in the near future.
Colts running back:Frank Gore, who turns 33 soon, might live forever. But at some point, the Colts have to draft a running back to take over the backfield once he retires. So ... unless you're a believer in Robert Turbin or Jordan Todman, you would have to expect the franchise to pick a running back in the draft. While the team isn't likely to fill the position in the first two rounds, don't be shocked if Indianapolis picks a runner like Utah's Devontae Booker or Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon in the third or fourth round. Regardless, Gore's stock is likely to drop to that of a fantasy flex pick.
Bengals wide receiver: Cincinnati did add veteran wideout Brandon LaFell, but that move alone doesn't offset the loss of both Marvin Jones (Lions) and Mohamed Sanu (Falcons). As a result, it wouldn't be a shock to see the team go hard after one of the top wideouts in the 2016 class. In fact, some NFL.com mock drafts have them taking Baylor's Corey Coleman, TCU's Josh Doctson or Pittsburgh's Tyler Boyd with the No. 24 overall selection. Whichever rookie reciever lands in the Queen City figures to be a popular pick in most seasonal fantasy football leagues, at least in the later rounds.
Broncos quarterback: Let's be honest ... unless the Broncos are able to land Colin Kaepernick via trade with the San Francisco 49ers, no one is going to draft a Denver quarterback in seasonal fantasy leagues. Sorry, Mark Sanchez. The reason I have this position listed here is the effect it will have on stud wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. We already started to see a statistical decline from Thomas last season when Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler were under center, so if the Broncos don't get Kaepernick and draft Memphis' Paxton Lynch, fantasy leaguers will take notice.
Vikings wide receiver:Stefon Diggs looks like a lock to be the team's No. 1 wideout heading into next season, but the likes of Jarius Wright, Charles Johnson and Cordarrelle Patterson (remember him?) don't excite fantasy fans. Among our eight mock draft analysts, seven have the Vikings taking a wideout with the No. 23 overall selection. Those receivers range from Mississippi's Laquon Treadwell to Ohio State's Michael Thomas and also include the likes of Notre Dame's Will Fuller, Coleman, Doctson and Boyd. Adding another offensive weapon could help the value of Teddy Bridgewater as well.
Rams quarterback: Los Angeles (I almost typed St. Louis) appears to be confident in Case Keenum, so confident in fact that the team put a first-round tender on him. Those of us in fantasy land aren't as confident, however. And with one of the top two runners in fantasy land, Todd Gurley, sharing the backfield, owners need to take interest in who ends up as the No. 1 quarterback in Hollywood. Of course, the decision to stick with Keenum or draft someone like California's Jared Goff, Lynch or Michigan State's Connor Cook could also alter the value of wideouts Tavon Austin and Brian Quick.