We asked the same question of Kansas City Chiefs running back Damien Williams last week, but we shift our attention to a player who has seen both support and been maligned in the fantasy community as of late: Atlanta Falcons second year receiver Calvin Ridley.
Most point to his current ADP as the biggest stumbling block (late 5th – early 6th), coming off the board as a WR2. They say that Atlanta has too many receiving options beyond him for him to see even a marginal uptick in target share in 2019, and I believe that is wrong.
First, we have to analyze how new Head Coach (and former Falcons OC) Dirk Koetter likes to call his offense. In the simplest way, he loves to throw the football. Since 2012, he’s ranked within the top 10 in the league in passing attempts and passing yards, and for two years straight with Tampa Bay, his offenses finished in the top 5. Expecting anything less than 620 or so passing attempts is foolish, and that’s where we start to see the promise.
Of course, there are a lot of capable pass catchers. After all, Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper both had about 14% of the target share last year, the same as Ridley. Being only separated by a total of 6 catches, it’s easy to see why some people expect more of the same in 2019. Still, it’s important to really dig deep to understand how both players were utilized in 2018.
Hooper was a year late on his “breakout” as he finally commanded a decent chunk of the offense, but his usage was spotty at best, with nearly 50% of his targets coming over a 4 games stretch, and his output across his 16 game season suggests he’s typically being used as a check down option. We only saw him crest 60 yards three times all season, and his highest total was 77 on 12 targets (9 receptions) against Pittsburgh in week 5.
Sanu, on the other hand, was far more consistent, being targeted 6 or more times in 10 games. Still, with his 94 receptions, he went for 100 once, and until the final two games of the season, saw 9 weeks of fewer than 50 receiving yards.
These are not the caliber of players who should be major obstacles for Calvin Ridley to ascend to the next level in his NFL career.
After all, his 92 targets came across 5 starts (in 16 games) and despite a few lulls in production, had far more impactful weeks than either Sanu or Hooper had. Ridley managed a fantasy score of 14+ points 7 times in 2019, and finished as the WR22 In PPR scoring and WR18 in Standard Scoring. All this while not “starting” a game until week 10.
While projections are never an exact science, we have to believe that Ridley’s upside far outpaces the other receivers on this roster, and while Julio is entrenched as the top target, Ridley shouldn’t be expected to regress in 2019. At his current ADP, he’s in line with what I consider his floor, making him a safe pick. I’ll stop short of suggesting his ceiling is 1,200 and 12, although it may be down the road, but our projections put him around the following:
75 Receptions, 975 Yards, 10 TDS and a WR15 finish.
In a stunning power play, Julio Jones has opted to hold out of Falcon’s training camp as he demands a raise on his current contract. Of course, the idea is that he’ll still be on the field week one, but it’s still a cause for alarm as the veteran has been an elite fantasy option every year of his career.
Arthur Blank has said that it’s his goal to see Jones as a “Falcon for life” so it bodes well that we’ll get some kind of resolution prior to the season. Still, it’s a bit of an inconvenience for fantasy owners that he won’t have preseason reps with Matt Ryan (and there’s always that possibility, however slim, that he holds out into the season).
While the absence will certainly help Mohamed Sanu, it more impacts rookie wide out Calvin Ridley as he’ll have extended time with the 1’s in practice. For a player who was on many drafters radars already, this is great news. Any advantage he can gain by being more prepared makes a potential target even more valuable.
In the end, I full expect to see Jones on the field and as the teams top target, but the opportunity is there for Ridley to impress and work his way into a WR2 spot. This is an offense we want to monitor in the off season and re-rank accordingly as the season approaches.
14. New York Giants
It may come as a surprise to many, but I feel that this roster could be even higher on this list if I was convinced the O-Line had improved. I love the addition of Nate Solder, but it remains to be seen if the Giants can give Eli Manning enough time to find his receivers. It helps getting Beckham back. Between the passing game and Saquon Barkley’s arrival, this offense should keep defensive coordinators guessing and give the Giants plenty of plays to run to keep Eli on his feet.
Players Worth Drafting: Saquon Barkley (ADP 7), Odell Beckham Jr (ADP 12), Evan Engram (ADP 65), Sterling Shepard (ADP 121)
While it may seem like we’re overvaluing Barkley, the truth is that he fits the mold of a 3 down back, and despite Jonathan Stewart’s presence on the roster, I expect Barkley to have a massive number of touches. Just knowing he’ll see 275 rushes (or more) will mean more space to run for Eli’s three biggest weapons. While there may not be enough balls going to receivers to support all these weapons, the fact remains that Big Blue should be much improved over last year.
Deep Sleeper: It may be the first act of his swan song, but the Eli Manning should be inline for one of his best seasons in years. Don’t expect outrageous volume; my guess is that the Giants will opt to rush a bit more than pass, but he’s got the weapons to far outpace the projections that have him sitting just outside the draft able tier of QBs. If you need to pull the trigger on a super late QB, Manning is one I’d be comfortable taking.
13. Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are one of those teams that churn out reliable fantasy starters without despite never really feeling like an elite NFL team. Despite Philip Rivers still being disrespected by the fantasy community, it’s clear that owners trust the production of the two biggest stars in Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen. Of course, aside from volume, both players represent major concerns that may dissuade you from selecting them at their position near the top of your draft.
Players Worth Drafting: Melvin Gordon (ADP 13), Keenan Allen (ADP 15), Philip Rivers (ADP 125), Mike Williams (ADP 165)
Gordon is an interesting case in that he’ll have tons of volume (roughly 20 touches per game) but he’s not exactly taking the top off with a career yard per carry mark of under 4. Whether or not that’s a product of the system, the signs are there for regression should the volume change at all. Keenan Allen on the other hand represents one of the highest ceilings in the league despite feeling like an injury risk every time he steps on the field. Drafting a Charger takes guts, and while the reward can be great (both are considered top 12 in their respective positions) the risk is equally as jarring.
Deep Sleeper: It’s hardly a secret, but Mike Williams is popping up everywhere as a potential 2nd year breakout candidate. Thanks to his injury issues that kept him from turning into a fantasy stud last year, you have a limited window to grab the elite talent in a later round. If you happen to get him, understand that he’s a WR1 waiting to happen.
12. Cleveland Browns
Cleveland’s 1 – 31 record over the last two seasons may scare you away from drafting their players, but I’d argue that most of these guys are undervalued for that very reason. Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry are both top 25 threats, even in the same offense, and Duke Johnson remains under rated especially in PPR formats. The only major concerns I have are with Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb cannibalizing each other’s touches.
Players Worth Drafting: Josh Gordon (ADP 37), Jarvis Landry (ADP 55), Duke Johnson (ADP 78), Nick Chubb (ADP 111), Carlos Hyde (ADP 120), David Njoku (ADP 139), Tyrod Taylor (ADP 149)
Njoku may find himself the odd man out this year in the passing game with so many elite options for Tyrod Taylor to attack with. Josh Gordon has been heavily targetted (9-11 targets per game since 2012) and should continue to see the bulk of the targets, but don’t count out Landry for another 100 reception season. Don’t shy away from Taylor either; Baker Mayfield is going to hold a clipboard this year.
Deep Sleeper: Tyrod Taylor may have had a down year last year, but his weapons improved exponentially compared to what he had to work with in Cleveland. While his ADP has him available near the end of your draft, there’s a real chance for him to finish as a QB1 this year.
11. Atlanta Falcons
The Super Bowl hangover was a strong one for Atlanta who went from record setters to barely watchable in the matter of a few months. Still, even this much of a drop feels like an overreaction as the Falcons still boast some of the most complete play makers in all of football. Expecting Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Devonta Freeman to repeat as middle of the pack performers would be a sure fire way to miss out on a discount for this years Atlanta studs.
Players Worth Drafting: Julio Jones (ADP 9), Devonta Freeman (ADP 21), Tevin Coleman (ADP 83), Matt Ryan (ADP 119), Calvin Ridley (ADP 132), Mohamed Sanu (ADP 152)
Obviously Jones is still being targetted early, but still overlooked is his usage in the end zone. Not much has to improve for him to go from a top 10 WR to a top 3, which I expect to be the case this year. Outside of Jones, the Falcons are universally underrated, especially veteran QB Matt Ryan. While I won’t predict a return to the 2016 numbers that saw him win a regular season MVP, I will be bold enough to predict a return to the top 10 in his position. A perfect “wait on a QB” candidate, he’ll help you build out a stabled of position players without costing you much in production.
Deep Sleeper: Mohamed Sanu may not be a sexy name, but he’s been an above average 2nd option in this Atlanta offense for years, and the arrival of Calvin Ridley shouldn’t completely torpedo his usage. If anything, there’s more evidence that rookie receivers aren’t fantasy studs right away, so don’t expect Sanu to fade into the background. He’s a 16-18 round option who could put up WR30 numbers if Atlanta returns to it’s high flying ways.
10. Detroit Lions
It helps that Detroit loves to the throw the football, and I don’t see the addition of Kerryon Johnson or LeGarrette Blount changing that. I expect another 600 attempt season out of Stafford, as well as positive performances out of Tate and Jones, both of whom should hit the 1,000 yard mark this year. The rushing game exists to compliment this potent passing attack, so expect experimentation early on as the coaching staff tries to meld the deep stable of backs into a cohesive unit, so don’t expect too much too soon.
Players Worth Drafting: Golden Tate (ADP 49), Marvin Jones (ADP 62), Kerryon Johnson (ADP 93), Matthew Stafford (ADP 107), LeGarrette Blount (ADP 148), Kenny Golladay (ADP 151), Theo Riddick (ADP 158)
In fact, the rushing game may be ugly all season long. LeGarrette Blount was brought in to be a goal line guy, so while TD’s may be a boon, there’s no telling what the rest of the group will siphon away. Theo Riddick is the safest of the group in PPR leagues, but Kerryon Johnson could be a guy who increases his workload slowly until he’s a fantasy star.
Deep Sleeper: Luke Willson was an under the radar signing for a team that’s been looking for it’s red zone, pass catching TE for years. His athletic ability profiles him as a top tier receiving threat, even if his limited exposure in Seattle would seem to show otherwise. With Kenny Golladay the popular late round pick in this offense, I expect to be able to add Willson off waivers or in the really late rounds in deep leagues, which is exactly the kind of value I look for from a guy with his pedigree.
While the season still sits firmly on the horizon, fantasy nerds like myself help prop up the early season ADP data by grinding mock drafts despite having very little information to work with. While I’ll still examine each position with the “hidden gem” feature articles later in the summer, we’re going to provide sleeper updates on a monthly basis until the season begins.
Ryan Tannehill, MIA: Don’t confuse his inclusion on this list as a suggestion that the Dolphins are a team on the rise; because they’re not. What he is, though, is a potential top 15 fantasy quarterback available in the last few rounds of your draft. Ignoring last season, Tannehill has finished 13th (2013), 7th (2014), and 15th (2015), and turned in a dud in 2016 as the QB25 (he did miss 3 games). Those aren’t world beater numbers, but considering the relatively easy schedule he’ll face, and his ability to generate surprising yards on the ground (he averages around 200 yards per season) his floor is well above what we may expect from a player being drafted currently in the 21st round of deep drafts. As a bench player, he costs very little draft capital, but provides more upside than the other QB’s being drafted in a similar spot.
Matt Ryan, ATL: A massive drop off from his QB2 finish in 2016, Ryan’s 2017 has scared off potential suitors and saw him drop to the QB16 spot per current consensus ADP data. No longer playing with the pressures of the QB who blew the biggest super bowl lead, Ryan is poised to bounce back. Atlanta returns it’s superstar backfield, still has Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, and added Calvin Ridley at the draft, marking a very clear focus on surrounding Matty Ice with weapons. A return to the high flying offensive numbers of 2016 may be a stretch, but I’d find it hard to believe if Ryan turns in another dud this year. I fully expect a top 10 QB finish, and one that can be added in the 11th round of your draft.
Ty Montgomery, GB: I know I was derisive of Montgomery last year, but in spite of that, his current ranking (RB59, ADP – 100) is criminally low for a back that many viewed as a top 20 back last year before injuries derailed his season. While he remains an injury risk, a health Montgomery should resume his lead back role in 2018, especially in the passing game. It doesn’t hurt that he’ll be catching passes from the best QB in the game right now. If you need to add depth at the RB position, or punted on early round backs, Montgomery may help bail out a roster.
Marlon Mack, IND: While Mack was a trendy sleeper pick last year behind the aging Frank Gore, his performance over the season left a lot to be desired. In 16 games Mack garnered double digit touches only twice (in week 1 and week 8) otherwise he was an after thought in a terrible Colts offense. Now, he’s in line to be the lead back with Gore leaving for Miami, and the news that he’s fully recovered from surgery to repair a torn labrum he played the season with further cements his “sleeper” status in my mind. Even if Andrew Luck remains on the shelf, in the 8th round of drafts (ADP of 77th overall), Mack provides a solid floor while presenting plenty of upside.
Devante Parker, MIA: Last year, Parker was drafted with the expectation that he’d take a leap into the positions top 20; instead he was saddled with horrendous quarterback play and inconsistent targets following the season ending ACL injury suffered by Ryan Tannehill. While Tannehill doesn’t present much of an upgrade over Jay Cutler and co in terms of real football, he does have a great rapport with Parker. Coupled with a relatively easy schedule, an Parker is a steal at 104 overall.
Cole Beasley, DAL: Another tumultuous offseason for the Cowboys saw franchise corner stone Dez Bryant leave via free agency and Jason Witten retired. Despite the addition of Allen Hurns, the player who stands to gain the most from the absence should be Cole Beasley. After leading the team in targets in 2016, Beasley felt the effects of the Elliott suspension hard as the season saw him finish with only 36 catches on 63 targets. Let’s not forget, though, that the diminutive slot man led the team in targets in 2016 and saw a healthy 75 targets the year before. Expecting 80+ targets shouldn’t be too difficult a prediction considering that Dak Prescott has to throw to somebody and Beasely represents the best option for slot work on a run first team. Basically an afterthought in drafts so far, Beasley can be had for the low low price of nothing.
David Njoku, Cle: Coming out of college Njoku seemed like a lock to contribute right out of the gates, but as we so often find out, rookies are a crap shoot in fantasy. Now, the word is that targets are going to be scarce for the talented tight end, thanks to three very good receivers and two capable pass catching backs on the roster. I’d argue that with Tyrod Taylor’s propensity to scramble with the football, Njoku could be a nice target for owners looking to add TE depth late in drafts. While he likely won’t finish in the top 15 at the position, he’ll probably see a healthy number of targets in the red zone, giving him value regardless.
Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Jac: One of these days my Sefarian-Jenkins take is going to pay off in spades, and this year looks like it’s the year. Uber talented, Sefarian-Jenkins toiled away on a Jets team that couldn’t get consistency on offense no matter how hard it tried. It was recently revealed that ASJ suffered from substance abuse issues that he’s since sought help for and claims that he’s sober and focused on football for the first time as a pro. Color me intrigued as an involved Sefarian-Jenkins could be a monster in fantasy, especially given the lack of top tier weapons in Jacksonville following Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns departures. A late round target, he’ll cost you next to nothing to acquire but could be a massive piece of a championship run.
Eli Manning, QB – NYG: Currently ranked 186th by Fantasy Pro’s consensus rankings, Eli Manning appears to be little more than an afterthought going into his 14th professional season. Part of the problem for fantasy owners is that, at 37, his performance last year is as easily attributed to his age, as it is to the circumstances surrounding the Giants roster upheaval. I’d say they’re wrong.
This offseason, the Giants have tried adding help to both the backfield and the offensive line, two maligned personnel groups that managed to cost Manning valuable time in the pocket. With a stronger run game, a healthy wide receiver corps, and a cleaner jersey thanks to a capable left tackle, Manning should have a much more favorable fantasy season. Do I expect him to finish in the top 5? Hell no, he is 37 after all, but 4,000 yards and 28 TD’s is a reasonable expectation, and one that will give you excellent value in the 19th round of your draft.
Derek Carr, QB – OAK: With all of the noise surrounding the Oakland Raiders and it’s young stud quarterback going into last season, it’s no surprise that the team seemed to shrink from the pressure. Carr turned in some duds early on and suffered a broken vertibrae midway through the season, Amari Cooper showed up for a handful of games at best, and the run game was a mess when Marshawn Lynch got dinged up. This year, expectations should be more in line with what this team is capable of; a wildcard playoff run and maybe a round or two in the playoffs.
With a shiny new weapon in Jordy Nelson, and a likely bounce back candidate himself in Amari Cooper, Carr should turn in a season much closer to what we saw from him in 2016. If he competes hard and reaches his ceiling, he’s a top 10 fantasy QB without a doubt.
Matt Ryan, QB – ATL: The Super Bowl hangover strikes again, as 2016’s break out star and MVP Matt Ryan turned in a stinker after being drafted far earlier than necessary in drafts last year. Ryan finished 15th amongst quarterbacks last year, which was shockingly worse than Blake Bortles, Jared Goff, and Case Keenum.
Still, the Atlanta offense remains one of the most high powered in the league, and Ryan still owns the keys to the car. With Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu being one of the rangier WR duo’s in the league, and two pass catching backs in Coleman and Freeman still on the roster, it’d be a surprise to me if he didn’t bounce back in a big way. His floor is around the QB12 mark, but with his ranking sitting around the 12th round, I’m all in on Matty Ice.
Honorable Mentions: A revamped offense in Cleveland means Tyrod Taylor has the best receiver corps he’s ever had the privilage of throwing to. In the 18th round (ranked 175) he’s a steal. Likewise, Jameis Winston managed to play himself out of the position’s top 10 rankings thanks to a down year. Expect the Winston to Evans magic to resume early as he finishes in the top 10 again.
The NFC South has produced two Superbowl teams in the last two years, and looks to be a competative division again with four strong football teams. As usual, the South should be strong in the fantasy representation as well, with high flying offenses and high ranking individuals.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Julio Jones (WR2), Matt Ryan (QB4), Devonta Freeman (RB5), Austin Hooper (TE20), Tevin Coleman (RB22), Taylor Gabriel (WR64), Mohamed Sanu (WR75)
Synopsis – Some may be concerned with where this team is mentally after blowing a monster lead in the Superbowl, but I’d argue that the talent trumps any kind of hangover. The offense is led by the triumverate of elite players in Julio Jones, Matt Ryan, and Devonta Freeman, and they all look to offer early round values. Coleman and Sanu are likely to carve out minor fantasy roles with Austin Hooper being the likely breakout candidate following Jacob Tamme’s departure. Expect fireworks in Atlanta again this year.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Greg Olsen (TE3), Cam Newton (QB10), Christian McCaffrey (RB16), Kevlin Benjamin (WR31), Jonathan Stewart (RB34), Devin Funchess (WR72)
Synopsis – Cam Newton suffered a litany of minor injuries and his stats suffered as a result. His expectations have been adjusted but with the addition of Christian McCaffrey, fans are hopeful we’ll see more plays from the pocket and less vicious hits at the end of short runs. A healthy Kelvin Benjamin looks to rebound, and Jonathan Stewart returns to his role as underdog, and figures to excel despite the precipitous drop in the rankings. Ole reliable Greg Olsen returns as my TE3, and could quietly finish as the top TE considering his role in this offense.
New Orleans Saints
Notable Fantasy Stars: Drew Brees (QB3), Michael Thomas (WR8), Mark Ingram (RB18), Willie Snead (WR36), Adrian Peterson (RB40), Ted Ginn (WR56), Coby Fleener (TE14)
Synopsis – It was an interesting offseason by the Saints as they traded former first round WR Brandin Cooks to the Patriots, and signed 32 year old Adrian Peterson to fill out what they hope to be a more balanced offensive attack. Mark Ingram may suffer slightly if AP is more than advertised, but considering the lower number of touches last year, one can expect a RB2 finish regardless. Michael Thomas slides into the WR1 spot but Willie Sneed and Coby Fleener should be the big winner as their targets should rise significantly as Brees is still likely to throw the ball 600 times.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Notable Fantasy Stars: Mike Evans (WR3), Jameis Winston (QB6) ,O.J. Howard (TE17), Cameron Brate (TE22), Doug Martin (RB33), Charles Sims (RB57), DeSean Jackson (WR30)
Synopsis – The Bucs are a tough team to get a handle on, but Mike Evans and Jameis Winston no longer qualify as both guys should finish in the top ten at their positions. Doug Martin and Charles Sims should split time (again) with the Muscle Hamster tackling the early downs and Sims cleaning up the passing situations. Beyond Evans, the Bucs have two young TE’s (OJ Howard is likely the most valuable in a fantasy sense) that should be heavy in the passing game, and DeSean Jackson seems to find his way onto the fantasy radar despite his WR3 ranking.
As futile as the exercise may seem this early, identifying sleeper candidates is one of the most important pieces of research you can embark upon. Below we’ll identify three leading candidates for you to keep an eye on before the preaseaon starts.
Austin Hooper – Atlanta Falcons | ADP 178 – TE 21 | It’s not fair to Austin Hooper that TE’s in Atlanta will be compared to all-time great Tony Gonzalez, but that’s the long and short of it.
With Jacob Tamme gone, Hooper will reprise his role from primarily a blocking TE to catching the football. So far, Matt Ryan has rung his praises, and the Falcons are preparing to get Hooper involved in the high flying offense in Atlanta. Prediction: 750 Receiving Yards, 8 TDs
Julius Thomas – Miami Dolphins |ADP 134 – TE 19 | While Thomas was certainly on these lists over the last few years, it was a combination of poor health and poor fit that caused him to disappear from fantasy relevance. Well queue the music because Thomas finds himself reunited with Adam Gase (the man responsible for his fantastic TE1 seasons in Denver). Despite this, and the fact that Miami has effectively used TE’s in the past (eg. Charles Clay, Jordan Cameron), Thomas is still being drafted as the 19th best TE. Prediction: 900 Receiving Yards, 12 TDs
Erik Swoope – Indianapolis Colts | ADP 319 – TE 42 | Just when you though I wouldn’t go deeper than Julius Thomas, here comes Erik “won’t get drafted” Swoope to round out the TE sleepers. While Jack Doyle is being considered the heir to departed Dwayne Allen’s starting TE gig, it’s Swoope, the former college basketball player, who has the athleticism to make a difference in Indy’s pass first offense. Averaging almost 20 yards per catch, Swoope will inhabit at the very least the targets that went to Allen, meaning he can expect 60-80 targets regardless. Sure he won’t average the same 19.8 ypc he did last year but he carries massive upside from the very last round. Prediction: 800 Receiving Yards, 6 TDs
Honorable Mentions: Dwayne Allen, NE (ADP 221), Jared Cook, Oak (ADP 198), Jordan Legget, NYJ (ADP 315).
Ryan Tannehill quietly put together a borderline top 10 QB season, and Lamar Miller proved he could run the football with some consistency and catch it on occasion in the passing game. The receivers on this team are young and talented, with high volume option in Jarvis Landry and burners in Kenny Stills and Rishard Matthews. Adding Jordan Cameron only makes it harder for defenses to match up when they want to spread you out. Worth Drafting: Ryan Tannehill will likely be valued lower than he should be, as a later QB1 he’s worth it. Lamar Miller may have some competition later in the year from the uber talented Jay Ajayi, expect him to be a workhorse if healthy. Landry should be a good bet for 70+ catches, and Stills could be a weapon for Tannehill over the top. Jordan Cameron, if healthy, will step in and replace Charles Clay’s production very well.
11. San Diego Chargers
Philip Rivers manages every year to put together a top 10 QB season, and expect this year to be no different. Keenan Allen and Malcom Floyd should still see the bulk of the passes, new addition Stevie Johnson has a lot to prove and could be a nice late round WR addition. Despite Ledarius Green’s presence, Antonio Gates went out and killed it last year, and I’ll never again doubt the big mans ability or drive. Worth Drafting: Philip Rivers as always falls just shy of the NFL elite, but is a solid QB if you miss out on the top teir guys. Keenan Allen has the tools to be a WR1 and Michael Floyd will still stretch the field a bit (16.5 YPC last year). Stevie Johnson is a risk/reward player as his pedigree may trick owners into jumping early. Antonio Gates should be himself again this year, and I would caution against Ladarius Green fans against expecting any real fantasy value unless Gates gets hurt. Melvin Gordon could be this years highest scoring rookie… don’t be afraid to draft.
10. Chicago Bears
I know what you’re thinking, “the Bears in the top 10?” They may not be a top 10 NFL team, but we’re talking in terms of fantasy contributions. Jay Cutler may be inconsistent, as is evidenced by his second half slide, but he still has plenty of tools and a big arm. Alshon Jeffery will have an uptick in attempts as Cutler has shown a propensity to seak out his top target despite double teams. Matt Forte is a top 10 RB and top 3 in PPR formats, and Martellus Bennet moves into the top 3 conversation at TE thanks to Jimmy Grahams change of scenery. Worth Drafting: I was high on Jay Cutler last year, and this hasn’t changed. If you look at his first 5 or 6 weeks last year, he had some pretty good numbers that would have been even better if he didn’t turn the ball over. Kevin White is an unknown quantity but he should replace Marshall in the long run with the same kind of build. Jeffry should be a top 10WR and Bennett is a top 3 TE.
9. Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan did the best he could with the rash of injuries that clipped the Falcons wings last year, but a healthy squad will make a world of difference. Ryan is a top 10 QB even without his top two targets healthy. Tevin Coleman could push Devonta Freeman but both are talented and whoever makes it out of camp as the #1 should see above average RB numbers. Roddy White is still an every week start even with the top 3 WR in Julio Jones across from him. They have question marks at TE as Toilolo Levine led their active TE’s with 62 points last year (in 1pt PPR). Worth Drafting: Matt Ryan had a few brutal weeks and still managed a top 10 finish, he’ll have a better grasp on this offense and health not withstanding should be a top 10 QB this year as well. Julio Jones has the talent to finish #1, and he’ll likely go in the first 15 picks. Roddy White gets over looked more every year but he’s still a top 20 WR. The real question is Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman? I think it’ll be a battle in camp, and both guys should have some fantasy relevance come week 1.
8. New York Giants
The world was against the Giants after a brutal season prior, but Eli Manning still finished top 10 at QB, and Odell Beckham emerged as a top WR threat. With the return of Victor Cruz this offense could have two scary weapons for Eli to use. Rashad Jennings may be a little older than the other top RB’s, but he still averaged 10-11 points per week (depending on your scoring system). Larry Donnell put together an admirable season and the Giants like to use TE’s in the passing game. Worth Drafting: Eli is a safe bet to out perform his numbers last year if he has a healthy WR corps. Beckham will likely be drafted incredibly early, but with Cruz back, he’ll be hard pressed to repeat his second half numbers. Rueben Randle is the real steal here, as his value takes a huge hit with two studs in front of him, but in a passing offense, he should out perform his ADP. Rashad Jennings was fine when he played, but grab Andre Williams late as a handcuff if you need to use Jennings as a RB 1 or 2.
7. Detroit Lions
I hate to say that Matthew Stafford is overrated, because I think he’s an entertaining gun slinger in the Brett Favre mold, but his terrible efficiency actually lowers his ceiling despite as often as he throws the football. That being said, he has two elite WR’s in Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. Either one can carry the torch if the other isn’t performing. At TE, they have two question marks: is Brandon Pettigrew capable of being used in the passing game and can Eric Ebron be healthy enough to contribute. I think Ebron is the TE the Lions would rather emerge. Joique Bell got a lot of touches last year, but averaged under 4 YPC. His value lies in the passing game, but the Lions served notice in drafting what they think is a 3 down back in Ameer Abdullah. A great talent, he should push Bell for touches early and often. Worth Drafting: Matt Stafford at the right price has enough volume to contribute but he’ll drive you crazy. Calvin Johnson slipping down the ranks only helps the owner who gets him, he’s still the best in the game in my opinion. Golden Tate is a solid second option, and a good one two punch in Bell and Abdullah in the backfield make this a formidable offense. Ebron is the TE to look at with a much higher ceiling.
6. Seattle Seahawks
The beautiful thing about this offense is that it’s predictable and consistent. Russell Wilson will beat you through the air or on the ground, and his ability to run at the right time means he’ll get you a ton of points that other QB’s won’t. Marshawn Lynch is a workhorse unlike any in the league. He’ll touch the ball with greater consistency and efficiency than anyone else. The homeruns aren’t always there, but 4-5YPC and double digit touchdowns make him my #1 back. Doug Baldwin has proven to be a solid #1 for a team that doesn’t throw it that much, his value will reflect that. Beyond him, Jimmy Graham should give Wilson a redzone threat, but no one else is more than a flier. Worth Drafting: This team features three top 5 position options. Russell Wilson ran for 850 yards last year… he’s in my top 3 for QBs. Marshawn Lynch may not have as many 30+ point weeks as a Le’Veon Bell, but his unparralleled consistency (12 weeks above RB average) make him my #1, and Jimmy Graham will likely be the #1 option inside the 20 plus just a tick behind Baldwin elsewhere. Draft all three confidently. Doug Baldwin is a safe WR if he’s available after the top options are off the board.
5. Dallas Cowboys
My value of the Dallas Cowboys is contingent on the offensive line. Darren McFadden’s ability hasn’t been his big question, it’s been his health. If he can stay on the field he’ll benifit greatly from the O-Line that helped DeMarco Murray lead the league in rushing last year. Dez Bryant and Tony Romo have a special connection, allowing both to creep towards the top 5 in their catagories. Cole Beasley should be a good value pick in PPR leagues, and Jason Witten is ageless and productive. Worth Drafting: At their relative ADP’s I’d say nearly all of the offensive weapons are worth a look. Bryant, Romo and McFadden all three will be drafted in the first 4 or 5 rounds. Witten, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley all have a good chance to produce weekly for this team as well.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Who knew Le’Veon Bell would bounce back from a tough rookie year to lead the league in fantasy scoring? We knew he’d be good, but it gave the offense the freedom to throw different looks at the defense. They were rewarded with a career year by Roethlisburger and the emergency of Antonio Brown as a top WR office. Marcus Wheaton will put up solid WR fantasy stats as well, and Heath Miller, although no longer Elite, still has some gas in the tank. Worth Drafting: Ben Roethlisberger may not finish with the totals he had last year, but he’s a good bet to finish at or near a top 5 QB. Le’Veon Bell is going to miss a few games to start the year, but it’s clear he’s the focal point of that offense and he’s young enough to eat up 300+ touches and is a beast in PPR. Antonio Brown is the Marshawn Lynch of the receiving game. Quietly posting 300 or so points in PPR leagues and nearly 15-20 points every week. Bell and Brown are likely first or 2nd round picks. Don’t sleep on Miller either as there is really only 5 or 6 elite TE’s on the board, and after you’re looking at either consistency (miller) or home run weeks.
3. Denver Broncos
This wouldn’t change if Peyton Manning was 50 years old, and that’s because they finally found their RB to compliment their lethal passing game. Peyton is a general, and will use his elite weapons liberaly, and will make mediocre talents look even better. Julius Thomas is gone but anyone that can run routes will look solid in this offense. CJ Anderson as a 3 down back compliments Manning in ways Montee Ball never could, averaging 180+ points in PPR formats over the final 7 weeks (on par with Le’Veon Bell). Worth Drafting: Manning may be falling behind his contemporaries a bit but should still finish in the top 5. Demaryius Thomas looks to be a top 2 WR with Emmanuel Sanders not far behind. CJ Anderson is a bit of an unknown quantity but even if he’s only a quarter of the back he was over the last 7 weeks, he’ll be a top 10 back. Not sure about Virgil Green, but I think we said the same thing about Julius Thomas a few years ago, and Manning turned him into a top option.
2. Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy… do I need to say more? A high powered offense with consistency and familiarity unlike any squad in the league, they could break records if the schedule shakes out for them. They play through the air, and on the ground, but they give everyone their due which is rare for a team with as many options. Worth Drafting: Aaron Rodgers may have been supplanted by Andrew Luck, but he hasn’t fallen far. All four of the players above will be gone in the first 3 or so rounds, which is scary for opposing defenses. Andrew Quarless is the other player to target, but they’ve never been a heavy TE use team.
1. Indianapolis Colts
AFC Championship withstanding, this is the most outstanding offense in football. A team that is often in shootouts, Indy has a quarterback to compete with them all. Adding Andre Johnson, Frank Gore, and Phillip Dorsett through the draft makes this offense even better than last year. Luck could (and I’d argue should) crest 5k yards and 50 TD’s, contributing to TY Hilton’s continued emergence as a 2nd round WR. Frank Gore has proven he can play forever, and in this Indy offense should contribute on the ground and in the air, and Andre Johnson may have lost a step but as a route runner, the dangerously accurate Luck should have no problem finding him in the soft spots of the defense. Worth Drafting: Andrew Luck will finish the year as the highest scoring player in football, draft him in the first round if you want him, he’s that good. TY Hilton and Andre Johnson should both have 70-80 Receptions with 1100 plus yards, although I expect Johnson to be the bigger red zone threat and higher ADP. Frank Gore may not be a top 5 or even top 10 RB, but expect some huge weeks from the old dog as he will be highighted in the passing game. Even Dwayne Allen, for all his deficiencies, should finish inside the top 10 of the TE ranks.
If you have a problem with any of these rankings, I say good, because debating and conversation is the best way to explain why we feel the way we feel. Tell me where I’m wrong, and who is your Fantasy Elite?
Would you rather is a weekly Fantasy Football article that will run up until Week 1 of the 2015 NFL Regular Season where we look at Pro’s and Con’s involved with Draft Day decisions.
The scenario is as follows. You play in a standard ESPN league, and Rodgers, Luck, and Wilson (all 300 point QBs) are gone. You don’t trust the old guys in Manning, Brees, or Brady, so you patiently wait and stock up on skill position players. The time comes for you to decided and you’re faced with a decision… who would you rather?
Player A statline from 2014: 4964 Yards / 28 TD / 66% Comp / 266 Total Fantasy Points
Player B statline from 2014: 4045 Yards / 27 TD / 66% Comp / 262 Total Fantasy Points
Player A is a 29 year old vet whose ADP last year was 63, B is a 26 year old up and comer who was drafted 173. It’s reasonable to expect these players to be drafted this year very close to each other but who do you grab. We can infer from the numbers that player B runs the ball more than Player A as is evidenced by a less productive game through the air but similar total points. Player B is near the top of the league in yards but not quite “Elite” in a scoring sense. Who do you bet on keeping up appearances in 2015?
The Big Reveal
Player A is none other than Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan. His elite stable of WR’s were far from healthy last year but he still managed a top 10 QB finish.
Player B is Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill who’s passing numbers don’t jump off he page but his 311 rushing yards were good for 5th among QB’s and 61st in the league overall.
Now, you may be wondering if you can rely on a QB’s running numbers to elevate his overall fantasy game. I say, in the case of a Cam Newton or Colin Kaepernick, you’re hoping the weeks they scamper for 150 and 2 TD’s come at the right time. For a player like Tannehill, his ability to grab 20 – 30 yards here and there give him the ability to make a decent week a little better.
I think a more relevant way to look at both players is their consistency. Both players finished well above average in terms of Fantasy Points per week. Among starters who played in half of their teams games, the average points per week come in at 14.5. Matt Ryan had 9 total weeks above 14, Tannehill had 7. The flip side is that Ryan had two weeks of 10 points or less, and in a 13 game regular season that could be the difference in making the playoffs or watching from the outside in. Tannehill had zero, less than Fantasy point leader Andrew Luck!
Does any of this sway one to draft the largely unproven Ryan Tannehill over Matt Ryan? For me, the question remains what weapons does Miami have? A lot of young, big risk big reward type skill players. Atlanta has two studs who if healthy form one of the most potent duo’s in the league. If (and it’s a big if) both players go in the same round, I’d take Matt Ryan for his consistency over Tannehill and his percieved upside.
What do you think?