Every year we spend our fantasy prep time pouring through periodicals and compiling statistics based off of “expert” analysis. And while this information is invaluable, we often times ignore the most important players to a championship team: The Bench.
Finding these hidden gems can be difficult but rewarding when your first and second round picks start experiencing the injuries that come with playing as often as elite NFL players do. We’ll examine who from the bargain barrel section of the drafts can help you when they inevitably enter the fray.
Surest Thing – Isaiah Crowell: With an ADP around the 10th round, Crowell (at this point in the offseason) is due the largest workload of any RB behind him. Despite the noise surrounding his boneheaded internet presence this summer, he’s still in line for at least half of clevelands touches. Duke Johnson averaged slightly fewer yards per carry and had 80 fewer touches. If you think it goes closer to 50/50, you can still expect 130 touches and 600 yards and the lions share of goal line touches. If Johnson gets hurt or fades? Crowell could be a steal in round 10.
Highest Risk Reward – Alfred Morris: The whole world seems to be sold on Ezekiel Elliot in Dallas, and where there’s smoke there’s fire. If he struggles early, veteran RB Alfred Morris stands to gain the most. Running behind that line, and with his ability to help on 3 downs, Morris only needs the door to open to have some big games. His ADP of around 150 means he’s a handcuff or at best a late round flier, but one that could be gold if he gets the touches.
Big Ole’ Bust – Justin Forsett: Entering his age 30 season, Forsett is likely in for a big drop off. Added to the mix is Kenneth Dixon, the fourth round pick in this years NFL draft. There’s some chatter out of Baltimore that he’s pushing for some playing time. As Forsett continues to wain, he’s likely to find himself out of a starters spot by the end of the year.
Bonus – Jay Ajayi: For a while after Lamar Millers departure, it looks like Ajayi would find all three downs to himself. The addition of Arian Foster dulls his prospects for the 2016/17 season, but don’t let it disuade you from stashing him in the later rounds. Foster hasn’t been healthy in years, and Ajayi is a dynamic runner who can help in the passing game, and he should be viewed with a decent amount of upside for this year.
- Michael Floyd – WR / Arizona Cardinals (Hand) – I expect Floyd to be ready for week one, but it’s clear the door is open for John Brown to ascend to push Floyd further down on our rankings. Unless he gets meaningful preseason reps, I’d expect him to open as the WR3 in Arizona.
- Kevin White – WR / Chicago Bears (Shin) – 6 weeks minimum is the expected time missed for the rookie as his shin injury required surgery. He could be on the shelf longer, but even when he returns it’s unlikely he’ll provide much fantasy help. Eddie Royal is looking like gold right now…
- Darren McFadden – RB / Dallas (Hamstring) – Although it’s not nearly as severe as the other injuries on this list, the mere mention of yet another injury in the long litany of them DMC has suffered should give owners pause. Draft with extreme caution, primarily as the cuff to Joseph Randle who now owns the keys to the kingdom.
- Joique Bell – RB / Detroit Lions (Knee) – Bell is working hard to find his way back on to the field, but it may be too little too late for the ageing veteran. Ameer Abdullah’s hype train seems unstoppable at this point, and while Bell won’t be kicked to the curb completely, it’s hard to expect him to handle a larger portion of the snaps.
- Arian Foster – RB / Houston (Groin) – It’s looking like half the season or more after groin surgery to repair the most recent injury to Foster. I argued to look past the injury history with Foster earlier in the off season, but it’s hard to ignore the facts; Foster is an injury waiting to happen, and as such needs to be handled with kid gloves. The fear with Foster is that even when he does play it’ll be a wait and see approach if he’s even worth starting. More of a last round flier than anything else with his history.
- Devante Parker – WR / Miami (Foot) – He showed flashes earlier in the off season and looked to fill a role on a team with several diminutive possession receivers. He should be ready for week one, but it may take him some time to get going, and Miami has a lot of mouths to feed. Be mindful he won’t be impact-full for several weeks at best to start the season.
- Brandon LaFell – WR / New England Patriots (Foot) – What exactly does his injury report mean? Not much considering that New England is the masters at giving just enough information to seem forthcoming but really say nothing. He may be hobbled to a bit to start the season, but without Brady, his numbers should be stunted anyways.
- CJ Spiller – RB / New Orleans Saints (Knee) – Spiller’s injury likely won’t cost him regular season playing time but it’s worth noting that Spiller has had troubles staying healthy in the past. When he’s on the field he’s electric, and his ability to play 3rd and passing downs makes him a valuable asset, but keep a close eye on his health going into your drafts, and have a backup plan for if (when) he becomes injured.
- Zach Ertz – TE / Philadelphia Eagles (Torso) – Ertz had a relatively minor surgery on his core, so expect him to be ready for week one. Not nearly as concerning as a head, knee, or foot injury, I’d ignore this one as a real threat to his ascension into the elite ranks of TE’s. Expect him utilized early and often in Chip Kelly’s uptempo offense.
- Niles Paul – TE / Washington Redskins (Ankle) – At one point, the question of which Washington TE would get the bulk of looks was a real one. Now we know it won’t be Paul. The out-of-no-where contributor will be on the shelf for the 2015 season after breaking his ankle in the preseason. If Jordan Reed is healthy ( and they’re a concern there as well ) he could be worthy of a later round flier.
The first big (and somewhat predictable) name to appear in headlines for long-term injury concerns is Houston Texans star running back Arian Foster. Suffering a hamstring injury on Monday, new reports make it clear he’ll likely opt for surgery putting his return somewhere around week 6 to 8. The obvious fall out for this revolves around the already spotty depth at the running back position.
At this point, the only back on the roster worth considering as a fantasy option is Alfred Blue, but despite solid numbers overall, his performance from week to week was wildly inconsistent. If the season started expect numbers similar to that of a low-end RB3 or flex starter.
An interesting tidbit to watch here is that Pierre Thomas was invited to visit the Texans as a potential short-term replacement for Foster. A team that relies heavily on the RB in the passing game, Thomas’ skill set fits the teams needs to a “t” and if he’s ready to go, provides a better short-term option both for the Texans and for fantasy owners.
Now, keep in mind that Foster has had these types of injuries in the past, and despite his age and mileage, continues to prove us all wrong, so a flier type pick on him to stash on IR (if your league allows it) isn’t an awful idea if he returns healthy for the second half of the season.
As always keep a close eye on the situation; the silver lining here is that it is early enough in training camps that you can adjust your draft strategy accordingly.
Fantasy Football is equal parts examination of numbers and patterns and following your gut. Both can get you in trouble, and both can result in the ultimate reward. When faced with a question of drafting an aging or injury prone running back, the question of handcuffs will inevitably come up. Is it worth it to use a draft pick on a player who may never see the field? Like any question, it’s important to know the players.
There are two very different scenarios at play here. Scenario one is best represented with a player like Arian Foster. At 29 years old, Foster is an old man in football terms who has a ton of mileage on his wheels. When he’s healthy, he’s a consensus top 5 fantasy back who in only 13 games managed 260 touches on the ground and 300 total including the passing game. The real question is what do you do in the 3 games he’s not healthy?
By handcuffing Alfred Blue, you’re ensuring you have a starter for those weeks when he inevitably breaks down and at an ADP of 193 in standard scoring leagues you’re not spending a high impact pick on the player. It’s a solid strategy to have if you’re concerned about Fosters health, but it is hardly the only scenario worth looking at.
My personal preference is to eschew the “handcuff” strategy and put an extra starting RB or two on the bench and watch the waivers to snag another backup who snags starting duties ala Isaiah Cromwell to mitigate injuries. A scenario that isn’t so far-fetched would be to select LeGarrett Blount (ADP of 75) in the 7th or 8th round to cover byes and unforseen injuries and take a late round flier on a player like Maxx Williams (ADP 191) or Eddie Royal (ADP 207). There’s plenty of reason to be excited about both of those players, and the odds that you’ll get season long production increases when you have players who aren’t sitting behind their incumbent starters just waiting for an injury.
If Foster goes down in week 4 would you rather have Alfred Blue ( 528 yards, 3.1 YPC with 2 TDs) or LeGarrett Blount (547 yards, 4.4 YPC with 5 TDs)? Both players had limited exposure last year, but Blount is in a position to carry the ball as the #1 in a high-powered New England offense and I’d argue is the better “backup” when Foster isn’t playing.
Of course, there is no right or wrong way to look at this. If you’re lucky enough to handcuff CJ Anderson to Montee Ball last year, you likely laughed deep into the playoffs and disagree whole heartedly. If you wasted a pick on Christine Michael… well there’s two sides to every coin.
As the NFL’s dog days settle in, we long for the hooplah that surrounded the draft. We pray to the football gods that a wacky Chip Kelley roster move falls in our laps. We ask that we never have to hear the words “deflated football” again in our lives. Instead we’re left reading reports of how every disappointing player is wowing in whatever camp is being participated in or how backup quarterbacks everywhere are competing to take the starting gig.
So, inspite of my fears that this is far to early to look at the NFL’s fantasy landscap, I’ll begin breaking down the pieces each NFL franchise may showcase come your very own Fantasy draft day. We’ll examine each teams skill positions and rank them from 32 to 1.
Without further adue… drum roll please!
32. Cleveland Browns
No other franchise in the NFL has swung and missed on a QB more than the Cleveland Browns. The most important position on the field, QB is the one position every NFL team focuses on, but Cleveland has a depth chart that has 35 year old journey man Josh McCown on top of their failed experiment of Johnny “football” Manziel. On top of that, Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline were brought in to bolster a dismal WR corps, but achieved nothing but making them more mediocre. Despite having a solid stable of RB’s on the roster, this offense is so disfunctional I’d be surprised if they had room to run. Worth Drafting: Dwayne Bowe is a risky pick, but at least he’s his teams #1 option. Isaiah Crowell should be a top 20 back unless Duke Johnson impresses early. I wouldn’t waste a pick in the first 5 rounds on this team.
31. New York Jets
In a similar fashion to Cleveland, the Jets experimented with Geno Smith, and decided that Ryan Fitzpatrick would give them the best chance to win. No fantasy owner would agree. Brandon Marshall is a marquee name, and Fitzpatrick didn’t kill Andre Johnson’s value in Hou, so he may still be worth a pick, but beyond him Decker and Kerley should prove to be inconsistent. Chris Ivory is a steady back but with the addition of Ridley and Zac Stacy, who knows which guy will lead the team. Worth Drafting: I’m sure someone in your league will draft Ryan Fitzpatrick; don’t be that guy. Marshall is an intriguing pick as the Jets haven’t had a goal line guy for a while and they may lean heavily on him, not a WR1 but could have value if he falls. Ivory quietly put together a decent season last year, so I’d think he’ll come out of the gates on top, but I wouldn’t waste and early pick. Ridley and Stacy are both risky, and may only be valuable as a handcuff if it becomes more clear before the season starts who is the #2.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville is a team on the rise, but will still suffer short term as Blake Bortles and his young WR’s become aclimated to the league. Bortles has the tools to be a good NFL quarterback, but as young as this offense is, he’ll struggle with consistency. TJ Yeldon will likely carry the torch at RB, and should be worth a middle round pick, especially in keeper formats. At WR things are a little murky. There won’t be a huge number of passes to go around, so a big week followed by a zero could have fantasy owners screaming. Julius Thomas should still be a top 10 TE even in this offense. Worth Drafting: Bortles is a project and should be drafted with this in mind. Yeldon has a chance to come out and put up good fantasy numbers, watch carefully as the team may announce him starting over Gerhart before the season starts. Marquise Lee has the most upside of the WR corps but it’s Julius Thomas as a saftey blanket for the young QB who warrants the highest value.
29. St. Louis Rams
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think Nick Foles is going to be able to handle the lack of protection that St. Louis has been famous for. He won’t have Chip Kelly’s schemes to protect him either, so I have very little faith that Foles will return to a top 15 QB. Todd Gurley looks to be a generational talent, but inuries should limit him in year one, and Tre Mason is a solid but unspectacular RB for fantasy purposes. WR is a soft spot here with Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt being marginal at best atop the depth charts. Jared Cook could be the one fantasy expection with nearly 700 yards last year. At a shallow TE position, he could be worth a pick. Worth Drafting: Foles was average in Philadelphia’s offense, so I expect him to be worth a late round QB2 or bench spot pick. Todd Gurley should be drafted with the understanding he won’t contribute early, and likely valued too high in keeper leagues. Kenny Britt as a depth WR or Tavon Austin as a hold your breath flier would be later rounds and Jared Cook could be cheap points at the TE position.
28. Tennessee Titans
Marcus Mariota has some great tools, but he’s still a bit raw when it comes to the NFL game. I don’t expect him to have much fantasy impact early. Bishop Sankey disappointed his NFL owners along with the fantasy world, so they went out and got David Cobb in the draft. Cobb should eat into Sankey’s carries early, but there’s no garuntee that either will see much success. A ton of talent at WR, it’s a crap shoot with who to pick. Kendall Wright should put up solid numbers but with a rookie QB inconsistency could hurt his value, but I’m a firm believer in Delanie Walker and expect him to repeat with a top 10 TE season. Worth Drafting: Mariota should be drafted as a bench QB only. Walker is a safe bet to put up good numbers, and Dorial Green-Beckham as a flier pick could reap huge rewards with his freakish athleticism. Delanie Walker has a lot of value in the red zone, and should be counted on as a top TE in a shallow field.
27. Buffalo Bills
Matt Cassell is a slight upgrade on paper over E.J. Manuel, but he’s not good enough to elevate the offense into the middle of the pack. The biggest question in this offense is LeSean McCoy. He had a ton of touches last year for Philadelphia and could’t put together a season worthy of being a top pick last year. Now he’s wearing a bills logo and things should only be tougher for him. Sammy Watkins is a stud, but opposing teams will be focused on the talented wideout even more now. I’m intrigued by Charles Clay as well. The converted back has tools to make him a mismatch, but Cassell can’t be counted on to keep his numbers up either. Worth Drafting: I’d stay away from either QB unless in a 2QB format league. LeSean McCoy should be counted on to touch the ball 15-20 times a game, but is a huge risk at his current ADP. Sammy Watkins is a no brainer, but Charles Clay is the toughest to put your finger on. In the later rounds sure, if overvalued due to his success in Miami last year, I’d look elsewhere.
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston is a fine talent, but he’s young and he’s taking over for a team that allowed 52 sacks last season. Mike Evans was a revelation and Vincent Jackson is still a deep threat, but Doug Martin is still a question mark. If the team can’t use him to spell Winston, there could be some growing pains early. I’m not convinced that Austin Sefarian-Jenkins failure to turn into a fantasy option was a result of a terrible passing game. Winston may help revive his prospects. Worth Drafting: Mike Evans will be an early pick based on his athletisism and high ceiling. Vincent Jackson is going to regress eventually, but he’s still worth a WR3. Winston should outperform Mariota in terms of fantasy, but he’s a project that may not reach his hype. Sefarian Jenkins could fall to late in the draft and I’d say he’s a steal there.
25. Washington Redskins
What a mess this organization has become as Dan Snyder wants nothing more than to torment the fans of his storied franchise. Robert Griffin may not have the backing of his Head Coach but ownership has ensure he’ll get the first crack at the job this year. His talent is undeniable, his mental toughness is. If he’s playing his game, defenses can’t defend all of the areas he can attack, adding value to their small but quick recievers. Garcon is a valuable volume reciever when the football is in the air, and DeSean Jackson can still torch a secondary. Two talented TE’s in Jordan Reed and Paul Niles provide nice targets for Griffin but damage each others value significantly if both are healthy. Worth Drafting: Despite not passing the eyeball test, Griffin had a few solid performances down the stretch that show he might be able to turn this thing around. He may be worth a flier if you think so to. Alfred Morris is as boring a pick as they come, but he’s a safe bet to touch the ball 15 times a game. Garcon may have more value in PPR leagues, but DeSean Jackson has shown he can be a difference maker regardless of who is throwing the ball. Injuries derailed Reed’s season and allowed Niles Paul to showcase his skills, but Reed is the more complete fantasy player and warrants a TE2 pick.
24. Houston Texans
Sure, they have Arian Foster who when healthy is among the best at his position. But they lost Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins is being asked to step into his shoes. Last year he was a stud, compiling WR1 numbers with an anemic passing offense. Adding Brian Hoyer may give them a better chance to win, but he’s not going to light up the score board, and this could hurt the WR’s. Jaelen Strong could be a sneaky pick if teams take Hopkins out of games as Cecil Shorts is really only there to stretch the feild. Worth Drafting: Arian Foster should still be considered one of the best in the game, but age and injury concerns could hamstring a fantasy team. DeAndre Hopkins is buzzing now that he occupies the number one spot, but I’m not sure that he’s ready to be the man yet. Jaelen Strong as a rookie has the tools to outperform a flier pick if your filling out your bench.