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Benny Cunningham on fantasy radar, sharing reps with Zac Stacy

Benny CunninghamSt. Louis Rams running back Zac Stacy was expected to be a true workhorse for his team in 2014, but the Rams’ pregame walkthrough combined with recent reports has led to some concern for his fantasy owners. Is Benny Cunningham working his way into the mix?

The Rams said earlier this week that they plan to use a “hot hand approach” with Stacy and Cunningham. While it appears that Stacy is still the starter and going to get the first shot at carries, he may be on a short leash.

Stacy will likely still be the Rams’ early-down and goal-line back, but the situation is worth monitoring. If you drafted Stacy early, you should already have Cunningham as a handcuff. If you don’t have Cunningham, he is definitely worth targeting on the waiver wire in case this turns into a timeshare situation.

H/T Rotoworld

Josh Gordon fantasy value rising, could return by Week 2

Josh GordonThose of you who took a chance on Josh Gordon in your fantasy drafts this season or held onto him as a keeper may soon be rewarded for your loyalty to the Cleveland Browns wide receiver. According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the NFL’s revised drug policy, if approved, could have Gordon back on the field as early as Week 2.

Under the new policy, which is still being negotiated by the NFL and NFL Players Association, the threshold for a positive marijuana test would be 50 nanograms per milliliter. Gordon’s sample measured 16 ng/ml, which would be well below the threshold. Gordon is in Stage Three of the league’s drug program, which would mean any failed test results in a one-year suspension. But if the threshold is raised that much, his test would become negative.

As Cabot notes, there is still some confusion as to whether Gordon’s failed test would be considered part of the new league year. The new league year started March 11, and it is unclear if the new policy will apply to players who tested positive after the start of the new league year or those who were suspended after March 11. Cabot reports that the NFL has known about Gordon’s suspension since February, which could complicate his situation.

In addition, let us not forget that Gordon was also busted for a DWI back in July. The NFL is reportedly seeking a minimum two-game suspension for first-time DWI offenders. Gordon’s hearing for his DWI has been pushed back to November, meaning if he is found guilty he could wind up serving a two-game suspension for that later in the season.

There are obviously still a lot of moving parts, but the future suddenly looks bright for Gordon and Wes Welker. Nothing is set in stone, but we wouldn’t blame fantasy owners if they started getting a little giddy.

James Starks fantasy value on rise with Eddie Lacy concussion

James StarksIt didn’t take long for Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy to remind his fantasy owners that they should have handcuffed him with James Starks. Lacy, whose bruiser running style makes him susceptible to injuries, suffered another concussion on Thursday night. The concussion is his second in 18 career NFL games.

Even before Lacy went down, Starks got a handful of touches and looked impressive with them. He carried the ball seven times for 37 yards and caught two passes for 11 yards. For whatever reason, he seemed to be more effective (5.3 yards per carry) than Lacy, who carried the ball 12 times for just 34 yards (2.8 YPC).

While it’s hard to draw any conclusions against a dominant Seattle Seahawks defense, it’s obvious Starks needs to be rostered in most fantasy formats. Lacy is far more talented and has a higher ceiling, but his latest concussion is a major concern. The former Alabama star appeared to suffer the head injury while running through Seahawks safety Earl Thomas.

Lacy, who is not very fast, is most effective when he runs through tackles. The question now becomes if his body can hold up to his running style. It’s quite possible Lacy could be cleared by next weekend and still be leaned on as Green Bay’s workhorse, but we wouldn’t be surprised if Packers coach Mike McCarthy started giving Starks more snaps in an attempt to keep Lacy healthy. And if Lacy misses any time, Starks would get the bulk of the carries in a fantastic offense. Pick him up as quickly as you can.

Jonathan Dwyer on fantasy radar with Andre Ellington injury

Andre-EllingtonArizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington aggravated his left foot in practice on Thursday and could miss time because of it. According to Mike Jurecki of Fox Sports 910, Ellington has undergone and MRI and could be out for an extended period of time. For fantasy football purposes, Jonathan Dwyer is the running back to add.

Ellington is one of the more popular breakout candidates for the 2014 season, but his size and injury history make him a major risk. The former Clemson star battled injuries in college, missing almost half of his sophomore year and undergoing surgery to repair a ligament in his foot after the season. He then played through an ankle injury his junior year and had another surgery in the offseason.

[Previously: Jason Babin rips off Andre Ellington's dreadlocks, holds them up]

As of now, it sounds like Dwyer would handle the bulk of the carries for the Cardinals if Ellington misses time. The fifth-year veteran would likely work in a committee with second-year back Stepfan Taylor. Dwyer, who has never carried the ball more than 156 times in a season and has averaged 4.2 yards per carry during his career, would likely get the goal line carries.

The situation is worth monitoring, as the Cardinals have not announced anything yet. But whether Ellington’s latest foot injury is serious or not, fantasy owners need to get Dwyer and/or Taylor on their rosters as handcuffs. Ellington is extremely fragile.

CJ Spiller fantasy value taking a hit with kick return duty?

CJ-SpillerC.J. Spiller has been one of the most frustrating real-life and fantasy football players over the past few seasons. The Buffalo Bills running back appeared poised for a breakout last season after racking up over 1,700 yards from scrimmage in 2012 and averaging 6.0 yards per carry. The breakout never came. Will 2014 be Spiller’s year?

It’s not looking that way. Spiller’s usage in the preseason has raised a lot of red flags. Fred Jackson may be 33 years old, but he is Buffalo’s starting running back and will be getting all of the goal line work. Plus, the Bills announced this week that Spiller will be returning kickoffs. Feature running backs don’t return kickoffs.

As of now, it looks like Spiller is being drafted too high in fantasy drafts (he’s going toward the beginning of the fourth round in 12-team standard leagues). Either the former Clemson star doesn’t have as much talent as we initially thought or the Bills simply don’t know how to use him.

In all likelihood, the Bills will use Spiller as a change-of-pace compliment to Jackson. It should be noted that Jackson is an incredibly high injury risk as a 33-year-old running back who has missed 12 games over the past three seasons, but he offers more value as a fantasy back. Spiller is likely going to be wildly inconsistent.

H/T Evan Silva

Kelvin Benjamin on fantasy radar as ‘star of training camp’

Kelvin-Benjamin-PanthersFormer Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin seems to be fitting in with the Carolina Panthers quite nicely. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, Benjamin has the type of body that can make him incredibly difficult for even NFL defensive backs to cover. Carolina is apparently getting a first-hand look at that in practice.

Benjamin, who scored 15 touchdowns for the Seminoles last year, made an impressive 29-yard touchdown catch against the Buffalo Bills in the preseason opener. According to David Newton of ESPN.com, he has also made a number of acrobatic catches during training camp.

Benjamin knows he has massive shoes to fill in the wake of Steve Smith’s departure, but he sounds up to the challenge.

“I grew up watching Steve Smith, so I knew a lot about him,” he said. “I knew he was the franchise’s leading receiver here. It’s unfortunate that he’s gone now, but I’m going to try to come in and make my mark.”

With the Panthers having lost Smith and Brandon LaFell, there is some concern that Cam Newton will have no one to throw to. But between tight end Greg Olsen, veteran wideout Jerricho Cotchery and Benjamin, Newton should have plenty of big bodies to target in red zone situations and when looking to move the chains.

As Rotoworld noted, Benjamin’s average draft position (ADP) in fantasy football has been climbing steadily throughout the offseason. If for nothing other than touchdown potential, he is a player to target in the late rounds of your drafts.

Rob Gronkowski cleared to play

Rob Gronkowski spikeAssuming Rob Gronkowski can stay healthy throughout training camp and the preseason, Tom Brady will have his most dangerous weapon on the field when the New England Patriots take on the Miami Dolphins in Week 1. Bill Belichick told reporters on Wednesday that Gronk has been cleared to play.

Gronkowski, who underwent surgery for a torn ACL six months ago, was not placed on the physically unable to perform list before training camp began. That was the first indication that the big tight end is good to go.

The Patriots brought in Brandon LaFell this offseason and are hoping to get more production from Danny Amendola in 2014, but Gronkowski is the engine that powers New England’s offense. When Gronk is on the field, the Patriots are more effective in both the passing and run games. He has tremendous hands, is Brady’s favorite red zone target and is an underrated blocker.

Gronkowski hauled in four touchdowns last season despite appearing in only seven games. He has 15 touchdowns in 18 games over the past two seasons and 42 total touchdowns in 50 career games.

The question, of course, will be whether Gronk can stay healthy. He is only 25 and has already had multiple back and arm surgeries in addition to major knee surgery.

What does this mean for fantasy football? Drafting Gronkowski will always be a risk given his injury history, but he can single-handedly win fantasy weeks when he is on the field. The fact that he has been cleared to play so early in camp indicates that Gronk had no setbacks throughout the offseason, which is obviously good news. If the health issues don’t scare you away, there’s no reason Gronk shouldn’t be drafted nearly as high as Jimmy Graham.