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Thursday Night Preview

CGodwinIn what has become a bit of a running joke, the Thursday Night Football game promises to be a dud more often than not. What does that mean for your fantasy prospects? We’ll take a look in this weeks Thursday Night Preview.

The Teams – Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last week wasn’t kind to these two teams, as only Christian McCaffrey turned in a worth-while fantasy performance (128 rushing yards, 10 receptions for 81 yards, and two rushing TDs). Cam Newton, Mike Evans, Jamies Winston, and Greg Olsen were all duds, while Chris Godwin and D.J. Moore had solid PPR days, but left a lot on the table. Carolina’s defense did allow 166 rushing yards to RB’s on only 28 total carries, but Tampa Bay features a far less exciting stable of backs than the Rams do.

Conversely, the 49ers offense wasn’t nearly as efficient despite hanging 31 points on the Bucs. Cam Newton will have to improve on his week one performance is the passing game is going to get back on track against a defense that allowed a meager 166 yards through the air to Jimmy Garoppolo.

Sits

Jameis Winston: Facing a Carolina defense that held Jared Goff and the prolific Rams passing offense to under 200 yards passing, Winston could have another tough go of it in week 2.

Mike Evans: While I still believe in Evans in year long leagues, I’m concerned about the Bucs offense providing Winston with enough time to find Evans down the field. I could see a game script that’s more run heavy with a lot of short to intermediate passing plays; something that doesn’t help a guy like Evans.

Curtis Samuel: Moore and McCaffrey shared the bulk of the targets, and considering how well Tampa defended San Francisco, it could be more of the same in week 2. Moore is clearly the top target, and if Newton has to lean as heavily on the run game in week 2, the opportunities aren’t going tot be there for Samuel to be a safe play.

Starts

Christian McCaffrey: Don’t read too much into the lack of success San Francisco had in week 1; their backfield was thrown into turmoil early on with the loss of Tevin Coleman. CMC is on a different level, and even thought we can’t expect nearly a 7 yard per  carry mark every week, he’ll have one of the safest weekly volumes, and is clutch in the red zone.

Chris Godwin: Evans is likely to be the focal point of the Bucs defense, meaning Godwin will have more opportunities to be targeted. If Carolina scores early and often, it’s Godwin, and not Evans, that I’m targeting in daily for week 2.

Thoughts on The Game

I don’t think this will be your prototypical 13-10 Thursday night game, but I expect fatigue to become a factor for the teams playing on the first short week of the season. Of course, these two teams look like they’re continue to filter the ball through it’s best play makers, so feel confident starting most of the top guys in these offenses, but be wary of the Thursday Night curse (low scoring duds).

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Mocking The Alternatives: 2 QB Leagues

We’ve covered a few different league types in our weekly Friday Mock Draft reviews, but this week we’re going to do something a little different. With alternative scoring formats becoming a trend, it’s important that we take the time to look at one of the more popular out-of-the-box formats; the 2 Quarterback leagues.

Of course, if you’ve never drafted in a two quarterback league, you’re in for a surprise, as your traditional “don’t draft a QB early” strategy has to be shelved in the interest of building a contender on draft day. That doesn’t mean I’m advocating taking multiple quarterbacks early; in fact I tend to maintain that I will likely be the last roster to add a starting QB, but adjusting one’s expectations is key.

For the sake of this mock, we randomized our spot in a 10 team league and received the third overall pick. Scoring is PPR and the only roster change is the addition of a 2nd starting QB.

Pick 1.03 – Ezekiel Elliott, RB – DAL

At the third overall pick, I’m not even considering taking a QB. I’m exclusively looking RB in the first 5 picks of the draft this year thanks to the drop off at that position. Kamara (okay…) and Barkley went 1 and 2, so this was an easy decision.

Pick 2.08 – James Conner, RB – PIT

Three quarterbacks went off the board between my two picks, Mahomes, Luck, and DeShaun Watson. One of the best things about these two QB and super flex leagues is that players tend to fall a little further into the second and third, and I can’t pass on the chance to own two of the leagues highest volume runners. I did consider taking one of the available WR’s here (Juju Smith-Schuster and Mike Evans were potential available targets) but the short turn softens the blow at the position and lets me maximize my roster by adding a second top 10 RB with my 2nd round pick.

Pick 3.03 – Juju Smith-Schuster, WR – PIT

It always feels strange selecting two players from the same team back to back, but of the available WR’s (Mike Evans and Antonio Brown were still available) I feel best about Smith-Schuster’s ability to produce consistent WR1 numbers. It’s important to note that three more QB’s were selected during the short turn. It does allow me to bulk up at the skill positions, but I’m looking more and more at the pool of QB’s and the time to pull the trigger on our first signal caller is approaching.

Pick 4.08 – Cam Newton, QB – CAR

The idea that middle of the pack QB’s are still the best value doesn’t entirely go out of the window in a 2 QB league, but making sure you’re not leaving yourself deficient at the position is important to. I’ll wait to pair Newton with a 2nd QB, but I didn’t want to hitch my wagon to Winston or Goff, so Newton it is. A bit of opinion here though… having an early pick seems to be the easiest way to navigate this format, since the short turn from 2nd to 3rd round gave me a great team core, and gives me the ability to come back from this QB pick and still have a decent selection available in the 5th round.

Pick 5.03 – Julian Edelman, WR – NE

There was a moment here when I considered taking a third RB as both Damien Williams and Aaron Jones were available, but knowing I’ll have to invest in a second QB within the next 6 picks meant I was uncomfortable with waiting too long for my second WR. Among the top remaining WRs (Brandin Cooks, Kenny Golladay, Cooper Kupp, and Robert Woods), Edelman represented the safest floor thanks to the PPR format. I don’t expect him to put up too many monster weeks, but he’ll be a safe play from week one to the championship rounds.

Pick 6.08 – Cooper Kupp, WR – LAR

I really wanted to ignore the bye week issue and take one of my favorite breakout candidates in Chris Godwin, but with 66% of my roster already off on week 7, I went with my second option in Cooper Kupp. While I was critical of him a few seasons back, I’m convinced that the connection he and Goff shares is something special. He was his top target for most weeks he was healthy last year, and while Woods and Cooks are still there, Kupps ability to find the end zone on top of that makes him the WR to own in the Rams offense.

Pick 7.03 – Kenyan Drake, RB – MIA

I’ve been singing his praises for the better part of a month, so I won’t dig too deep. His talent, and ability to catch the football, make him a perfect fit for a likely Patriots-esque offense that uses it’s backs on third downs. Available backs like Sony Michel and Philip Lindsay would be solid gets here, but competition in both offenses could cap the ceilings of both players while Drake only has Kalen Ballage to fend off for ownership of all three downs. The QB runs have certainly slowed down as well as Kyler Murray’s selection at the top of the 6th round marks the last one taken. I can feel a run coming.

Pick 8.08 – Mike Williams, WR – LAC

I wasn’t far off as the 7th and 8th rounds saw Winston, Brady, Rivers, Garoppolo, and Lamar Jackson come off the board. That also means potential top 25 WR Mike Williams falls to me at pick 83. I love Williams combination of size, speed, and opportunity. Rivers connected with Williams on 11 TD throws, and Williams managed to put up a stellar season despite not seeing 100 targets. As an ascending player, he’ll likely see an uptick in targets, and could be a real league winner in 2019. The danger, though, is that that the QB position is beginning to thin and I’m not sure I’m going to lose a few targets in the next couple of picks.

Pick 9.03 – Dak Prescott, QB – DAL

In the ninth round, I’ve reached my limit on pushing the position off and decide to take Prescott, who represents one of the better sleeper values at the QB position in my opinion. After a 5 week stretch to start the season saw his value plummet, Prescott turned in a pretty solid conclusion to the 2018 season, going over 20 points 6 times, and scoring less than 15 twice. With Amari Cooper still in the fold, it’s safe to assume that Prescotts second half is far closer to what we can expect.

Pick 10.08 – Latavius Murray, RB – NO

I was tempted to add Hunter Henry here to fill out my starting roster, but I’m not keen on having 6 players from three offenses anchoring my core. So I turned my attention to the running back position, which features a who’s who of committee backs and PPR specialists. While there’s a lack of upside for many of these names, we know how New Orleans likes to work their ground game, and Murray represents legitimate flex upside considering how Mark Ingram managed excellent numbers despite Kamara being the focal point. If Kamara goes down, too, then Murray’s upside skyrockets.

Pick 11.03 – Rashaad Penny, RB – SEA

I’m not jazzed about the available WRs, especially given that I’m moderatly confident I can land a solid player in the rounds to come. What I want to do is add a potential work horse back in Penny who’s rookie season has many convinced he wasn’t worthy of the first round pick the Seahawks spent on him. I’d argue the opposite, and given that Mike Davis is gone, and Carson’s knee was acting up, this may be the cheapest you’ll get a potential lead back. Seattle wants to run the football, and Penny is going to see a healthy number of touches regardless of Carson’s status, but his ceiling is far too high to pass up in favor of bench players like Emmanuel Sanders and James Washington.

Pick 12.08 – Larry Fitzgerald, WR – ARI

He’s not an exciting player at this point in his career, but what manages to do year in and year out is stay healthy and in the game plan. Hakeem Butler and Christian Kirk at the future at the receiver position in Arizona, but Fitzy is going to be heavily involved regardless. With much of his time spent in the slot, he’ll be a solid contributor to Kyler Murray’s development, and as a WR5, I’m more than comfortable adding him to my bench. I could have taken David Njoku here, but there’s some good value at the TE position in the next few rounds, and I’d rather secure a wide out who’s a safe bet for 100 targets in the 12th round.

Pick 13.03 – Vance McDonald, TE – PIT

While McDonald doesn’t really generate much excitement, he’s an interesting case considering over 200 targets vacated the Steelers offense when Antonio Brown and Jesse James left. With McDonald having the starting gig to himself, he’s got potential to be a solid fantasy contributor, although unexciting. We’ll have to pair him with a high upside guy later in the draft though if we’re going to be comfortable with our roster. There are a few interesting names available, notably Ronald Jones Jr, who I’m high on as a bounce back candidate, but with a similar player in Penny on the roster, I’d rather add starters.

Pick 14.08 – Adam Humphries, WR – TEN

If it feels like I’m reaching here, it’s because I am. With only four bench spots left and a plan to add one of each of the skill position players as well as a third QB, I’m going to be reaching on the next few picks. I love the potential with Humphries, given that Chris Davis’ star is slowly waning, and Mariota needs someone to throw to. AJ Brown may steal some targets, but despite the concerns I may have surrounding his ceiling, I’m comfortable with the 80-110 targets I expect him to see in Tennessee.

Pick 15.03 – Delanie Walker, TE – TEN

While many seem to think Walkers days as a fantasy contributor are over, I think he’s the perfect target to pair with a player like Vance McDonald. Walker has only seen fewer than 100 targets one time in his Titans career, and that was his first year on the team when he saw 86. Even if he regresses following his lost 2018. I expect 80+ targets and borderline TE1 numbers. If McDonald stumbles, you could do way worse than Walker as your back up.

Pick 16.08 – Nick Foles, QB – JAC

We’ve ignored the QB position for a good chunk of the draft to this point, but with so many being rostered, it’s wise to consider spending a bench spot on a third QB. Foles is the type of QB I target in 2 QB drafts ever year, as his change of scenery scares off suitors, but the same coaching staff that helped Blake Bortles turn in some decent fantasy outputs should help Foles do the same. He’s a bye week/injury fill in only, but considering that players like Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, and Josh Rosen are the names he’s being drafted around, I feel pretty good about it.

Pick 17.03 – Damien Harris, RB – NE

I’m not sure how much stock I put in the fact that Harris beat out Josh Jacobs for his college starting gig, but the truth remains that he’s an immensely talented runner, and he was drafted by one of the leagues most innovative offenses in New England. With their 41 year old QB Tom Brady showing signs of decline, the Pats rushed the football nearly 500 times in 2018. With concerns surrounding Sony Michel’s knee, and a willingness to use the best player, there’s a possibility that Harris could be this years surprise breakout. If he doesn’t contribute, he’ll be an easy waiver cut. Very low risk despite the potential for decent reward.

Pick 18.08 – Cleveland Browns DST

I love the Browns as a late round DST… I stream 99% of the time so it’s no sweat off my back if they don’t perform.

Pick 19.03 – Generic Kicker, They’re All The Same

Final Roster

  • QB: Cam Newton, Dak Prescott, Nick Foles
  • RB: Zeke Elliott, James Conner, Kenyan Drake, Latavius Murray, Rashaad Penny, Damien Harris
  • WR: Juju Smith-Schuster, Julian Edelman, Cooper Kupp, Mike Williams, Larry Fitzgerald, Adam Humphries
  • TE: Vance McDonald, Delanie Walker

Final Thoughts

One of the biggest advantages a 2QB league offers is the ability to add a few extra high value pieces. While players like Pat Mahomes and Andrew Luck become far more valuable, seeing ADPs approaching first round valuation, there’s still too much value later in the draft to over draft the QB position. We suggest taking your first QB in the 4-6th round range, but doing it when you have the shorter turn is always a good idea.

The basic advice we offer every year really applies two fold here as well. The rounds may shift forward, but you shouldn’t be among the first ones to draft that QB or TE for your team. With the knowledge that your going to add a third QB and a second TE, try and maximize your value up front. I’d rather have a roster like the one above, with an elite RB group and a versatile, high volume WR group and sacrifice slightly at the other positions than be forced to play catch up in the middle rounds while wiser drafters sit back and build strategically.

Superflex and 2QB leagues are fun, and they do provide you with a few different angles to the draft, but as always, have a plan but be flexible, and don’t let early runs dictate how you draft!

 

 

Back From Injury: QBs

jimmy GInjuries happen, we’re all familiar with the pain of a lost season, but as we enter the doldrums of the off season, it’s as good a time as any to talk about the players who didn’t finish the 2018 season due to injury, and what we can expect for 2019.

Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers

It may be easy to label Garoppolo as injury prone after his second significant injury across 10 total NFL starts, but it wouldn’t be fair. What is fair is questioning if Jimmy G was worthy of all the hype going into the 2018 season. A quick peek at the ADP data shows that folks were drafting him ahead of names like Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, and NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes. Did his numbers to that point in his career justify a QB1 draft position?

I’d argue no.

While Garoppolo was impressive down the stretch for a 49ers team that was out of it early in the year, his 2017 numbers were propped up by schedule that included games against poor defenses and playoff teams packing it in. Even then, the numbers were good, not great. Extrapolating his numbers shows that despite relatively high yardage (280 or so yards comes out to about 4,500 yards) but his scoring numbers remained mediocre as his 7 TDs and 5 INTs comes out to 22/16.

Early ADP data suggests drafters are concerned for his production coming out of the injury, and this much is fair. As the 16th ranked QB, he’ll hardly cost a premium, but the range of outcomes for a Garoppolo season is nerve wracking. Sure, he could realize the potential that had Kyle Shannahan salivating over his skill, but a sub 4,000 yard season with middle of the road scoring numbers could leave him as waiver wire fodder.

The Dr.’s EARLY Predictions: 14 Starts, 3640 Yards, 24 TDs, 13 INT

Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles

Much like Garoppolo, Wentz has a growing injury history that has to have fantasy owners questioning if his ability is worth the risk. Of course, the production was there right out of the gates when he returned to the field in 2018 as evidenced by the QB1 numbers he put up through his first 7 starts (an average of 20 points per game, good for QB11).

Still, a second straight season ended due to injury stung as Nick Foles managed to bring the Eagles back from the brink and into the playoffs by going on an improbable run. It’s unlikely Foles is back with the Eagles, so Wentz starting position is all but guaranteed, but the likelihood of an injury has to be considered higher than for most QB’s of his age and skill level. His current status is “questionable for OTAs” but I’d expect him back for week 1, and as long as he’s on the field, he’s worth starting .

The Dr.’s EARLY Predictions: 12 Starts, 3,375 Yards, 23 TDs 6 INTs, 120 Rushing Yards.

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals 

Dalton is unlikely to be a highly coveted fantasy commodity in 2019 even if he is still the starting QB for the Bengals, but the fact remains that he’s been a pretty consistent across a career that’s seen him start 16 games 6 times in 8 years. The bigger question surrounding Dalton isn’t his health, but the rumors that Cincinnati may be looking to move on from the Red Rocket going into 2019.

First, he’s been a fantasy mirage most years, having a few good games before fading back into the pack, and he’s never really been an elite, must-start option, so expecting things to change next year may qualify under “the definition of insanity.”

Of course, if he lands elsewhere through trade or release, then we may be having a different discussion. Teams like the Dolphins and the Giants may be a landing spot for the veteran signal caller, and each situation presents it’s own pro’s and con’s. Of course we can’t assume either scenario when making our too-early predictions, so for now let’s assume he’s back in Cincinnati.

The Dr.’s EARLY Predictions: 15 Starts, 3,390 Yards, 24 TDs, 15 INTs

Honorable Mentions: It never ceases to amaze me how Cam Newton can be constantly injured but consistently produce in terms of fantasy production. With D.J. Moore continuing to improve and an offense that’s slowly shifting to Christian McCaffrey, we hope Newton will find better health in 2019. Unfortunately for Alex Smith it’s unlikely health will allow him to play. We’re expecting him to miss the entire 2019 season after finishing 2018 on IR with a broken leg.

Early QB Rankings

  1. Aaron Rodgers, GB
  2. Russell Wilson, SEA
  3. Cam Newton, CAR
  4. Drew Brees, NO
    • A quiet yet efficient season has bred this idea that Brees is no longer elite. Expect a return to the top 5, especially with Ingram missing time.
  5. Carson Wentz, PHI
  6. Deshaun Watson, HOU
  7. Tom Brady, NE
    • This off season has been difficult for the Patriots as they have faced infighting, suspensions, and denatures. Brady will likely still be elite on the field, but his fantasy prospects take a hit.
  8. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT
  9. Kirk Cousins, MIN
  10. Matthew Stafford, DET
  11. Philip Rivers, LAC
  12. Jimmy Garoppolo, SF
    • The 5 game stretch to finish the year was impressive, but too many quarter backs have wilted under the pressure after securing the big contract. If reports of Jimmy G’s struggles at camp are correct, caution should be taken.
  13. Jared Goff, LAR
  14. Matt Ryan, ATL
  15. Jameis Winston, TB
  16. Patrick Mahomes, KC
    • The weapons are there in this high powered offense, but the difference between the potential floor and potential ceiling is where the questions begin. As likely as he is a top 10 QB, he’s a bottom tier guy who struggles in his first real action.
  17. Alex Smith, WAS
  18. Mitch Trubisky, CHI
  19. Dak Prescott, DAL
  20. Marcus Mariota, TEN
  21. Eli Manning, NYG
    • The age is a real concern as Manning turns 38 this year and has tons of mileage on his tires, but his situation has improved immensely. Getting back OBJ and Shephard, receiving better protection, and having an effective run game should have him back in the top 20 conversation.
  22. Derek Carr, OAK
  23. Case Keenum, DEN
  24. Andrew Luck, IND
    • This is likely to change as we approach the season and his availability becomes clearer, but for now we have him ranked conservatively, should he start the season on the roster.
  25. Blake Bortles, JAC
  26. Andy Dalton, CIN
  27. Ryan Tannehill, MIA
  28. Jacoby Brissett, IND
  29. Joe Flacco, BAL
    • I would once have defended Flacco against the haters but I can no longer ignore the writing on the wall. One year older, and an early round addition in Lamar Jackson give Flacco very little room for error.
  30. Tyrod Taylor, CLE
  31. Sam Bradford, ARI
  32. Teddy Bridgewater, NYJ
  33. Sam Darnold, NYJ
  34. Josh Rosen, ARI
    • Of all the rookie QB’s, Rosen feels like he’s the closest to a starting gig, mainly because Bradford is a safe bet to get injured. If you’re drafting in re-drafts, most of these rookie QB’s aren’t an option, but Rosen may be the best of the bunch.
  35. Baker Mayfield, CLE
  36. Nick Foles, PHI
  37. Josh Allen, BUF
  38. A.J. McCarron, BUF
    • Neither McCarron, nor Allen, excite me much, but it’s likely McCarron’s offense for now. If you need a really deep play – he may be worth a look in the last round of your draft. Ideally he’d be a waiver wire pickup, though.
  39. Lamar Jackson, BAL
  40. Josh McCown, NYJ

Selecting A Backup: QB’s

BWhether your throwing an early round pick at a top 5 QB or your waiting until the middle rounds to grab a back end QB1, it’s important to remember that eventually you’ll need a second quarterback for byes and injury.

Sure, you could opt to skip drafting a second QB and stream the waiver wire as the needs arise, but depending on how deep your league is you may be left with slim pickings for late bye weeks. Below we’ll examine each of the consensus QB1 selections and I’ll attempt to  give you 3 targets to keep in mind when drafting your backup.

Week 5 BYES: Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins

Having the early bye, it’s important to have a backup plan in place for the bye week and any potential injury issues later in the year. Both Ryan Tannehill and Joe Flacco are available in the 17th round or later in standard drafts, and both have favorable schedules during the home stretch of the regular season. Playing the Raiders (Flacco) and the Titans (Tannehill) are particular boons considering both teams finished in the top 10 for most generous fantasy defenses for opposing QBs. If you’re interested in late picks in deep leagues or just want to watch the waivers, Josh McCown of the Jets offers very little upside but does play the Browns in week 5 so could be a valuable stand in while your QB is on their bye.

Week 6 BYES: Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott

Neither one of the guys inspires the confidence of an Aaron Rodgers despite the potential for monster seasons. The Vikings’ Sam Bradford has a nice matchup against the Packers that should feature higher scores while Blake Bortles draws the Rams in week 6. Sticking with the he’s playing the Browns theme, DeShaun Watson (should he win the starting job) will not have much difficulty putting up decent points in week 6, and aside from the week 8 matchup against the Seahawks, has very winnable games down the stretch.

Week 7 BYES: Matt Stafford

Sure, he’s not really a QB1 to most, but in 12 – 14 team leagues he very well may end up your starting QB. Alex Smith (Rnd 16) draws the raiders, and Carson Palmer (Rnd 14) draws the Rams. Odds are you’re not going to wait too long to grab a backup but if you’re convinced of Staffords abilities, McCown has another nice matchup in week 6 against the Dolphins.

Week 8 BYES: Aaron Rodgers, Marcus Mariota

Week 8 offers a ton of value in terms of backups, and you could choose to wait until late if you grab Rodgers by drafting Mike Glennon (26th round) or Sam Bradford (playing the Browns). If you want to hedge you bets with Mariota, Andy Dalton is available in the 13th round and plays the Colts, and Carson Wentz has fallen back to earth a bit in the 14th round but could put big points but against the 49ers.

Week 9 BYES: Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger

Both Brady and Big Ben are two potential top 5 (or better) fantasy QB’s assuming their health holds up. Brady (despite being older) is a far less likely injury risk but it’s something to take into account when drafting an aging QB. Matt Stafford is a relatively low risk option to add in the 11th round assuming you’re concerned about missed time. Espcecially with Roethlisberger it’s important to be realistic. If you’d rather wait, both Joe Flacco and Ryan Tannehill can be had at the back end of the draft (both in round 17 or later) and both have above average schedules for fantasy production. Either or is a valuable addition to your team if you drafted Brady or Big Ben.

Week 10 BYE: Derek Carr

It depends on who you ask, but Carr is a borderline QB1 who should be drafted under the assumption that he should remain consistent. Still, having a backup for a starter who’s coming off a serious leg injury isn’t a bad idea. Eli Manning may only be drafted a few rounds later, but if he falls, he’s a perfect fit for the bye week and if Carr faces any missed time for injuries. Should he go before the 14th round, DeShaun Watson could fall to you as well, and his week 10 matchup against the Rams (and other favorable matchups in this area) mean less risk. While the by week matchups aren’t as good, Bortles (Rnd 16 – against the Chargers) and Bradford (Round 18- against the Redskins) could put up sizable numbers and serve as a valuable back up for the rest of the season.

Week 11 BYES: Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Jameis Winston

What a murders row of “who the hell knows” in week 11, although most questions should be answered by then. Still, there’s significant injury risk to Luck and Newton, so preparing is a necessity. Bortles matchup against the Browns makes him an obvious option in the 16th round, as does the potential shootout Joe Flacco (Rnd 17) is looking at against Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay, but the real crown jewel would be Carson Wentz in the 14th round; his ceiling makes for a dramatic backup but should he be needed for more than a week or two, he could produce in spades from the bench.

Of course it’s important to consider the bye weeks, but as always don’t compromise your strategy to fill in one or two weeks on the schedule. There are no worst case scenarios you’ll face that the other 9-13 teams you’ll play won’t also face, so make sure you start the best possible team and build around them as best you can.

Sparknotes: NFC South

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.

Atlanta Falcons

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.

Carolina Panthers

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.

5 Players I’m NOT Drafting

Every year, I encourage fantasy owners to find a strategy and stick to it. The worst thing you can do is change your plan half way through a fantasy draft. While it’s important to target the players you like, it’s equally as important to note the players you hate, and to never compromise on your research.

Here are five players I refuse to draft this year in any format.

Rob Gronkowski – TE, New England Patriots

GronkinjI’ve made this point before, and I’ll make it again; drafting a TE in the 2nd or 3rd round is not a smart move. When Gronk is healthy (a big if with him) he’s a world beater and far and away the best TE in football, but at his current draft position he presents too much risk for me with sure fire WR and QB on the board behind him (eg. Amari Cooper, Aaron Rodgers).

Jay Ajayi – RB, Miami Dolphons

I was one of Ajayi’s biggest fans when he was drafted out of Boise St, and I still think he projects to be a very good back in the NFL; I just don’t know if he’s ready to return the investment of a 2nd round pick. He’s currently being drafter around the 11-13 spot (first round in some leagues) and he’s done little outside of three monster games to prove that he’s worth that kind of capital.

Odell Beckahm Jr, WR – New York Giants

I’ll preface this by saying I’m a huge OBJ fan, I think he’s one of the most talented WRs in the league, but the conditions are ripe in NY for him to go bust. Read into Beckham’s antics all you want, but his absense at OTAs and his (alleged) strained relationship with Eli Manning don’t inspire confidence. Add into that mix another year with Shephard in the slot and the addition of Brandon Marshall and that’s a recipe for disaster. At his current ADP in the first round, there’s no chance OBJ ends up on any of my teams following the draft.

Mark Ingram, RB – New Orleans Saints

Ingram has long been labeled as injury prone, but last year he put together the finest season of his short NFL career. Then the Saints draft Alvin Kamara, a receiving specialist out of the backfield, and followed that up by signing one of the greatest RBs of all time in Adrian Peterson. Does this mean Ingram is on the outs in NO? Surely not, but I’ve learned that Peterson is at his best when he’s counted out, and the noise out of Saints camp is he’s playing with a massive chip on his shoulder. Ingram should remain the feature back for now, but there’s no telling if he wilts under the pressure from Peterson or if he loses passing downs to Kamar as the season goes on.

Cam Newton, QB – Carolina Panthers

This isn’t a knock on Newton, who’s unique skillset means he’ll probably put up decent numbers when he’s right; but the Panthers addition of Christian McCaffrey means to me that they want Newton to cut down on running the football and get back to running the offense. I still expect Newton to be servicable, but he’s no where near my QB6 and I’d much rather have several other QB’s ranked behind him in the later rounds.

Hidden Gems (WR)

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 – Mike Wallace: Despite the appearance of a crowded receiver team, Mike Wallace is my surest bet amongst the late round WR picks based on his ADP (around 179!) Simply put, he’s hiding behind an unproven journey man in Kamar Aiken and a 35 year old Steve Smith Sr. and whatever mess at TE they decide to roll out (Maxx  is a competent NFL TE but he’s going to eat significant targets away from any of the players already mentioned, nor is Gillmore). If Aiken regresses and/or Smith Sr. misses time with injury, the speedfunchessy Wallace should find himself hooking up with the strong armed Flacco more and more often. For a late round pick, he offers the highest ceiling with the lowest floor.

Highest Risk Reward – Devin Funchess: Despite pedestrian numbers in 2015, Funchess showed that he could be a productive player in the NFL, and there are two sides to the coin surrounding the return of Carolina’s “main man” Kelvin Benjamin. The majority of fantasy players expect Benjamin to step back into his #1 role, and you’d be justified, but I expect there’s a decent chance that having extra time to work with Funchess will result in better numbers for a WR being drafted in the 12-14th round. Obviously with Cam Newton, there’s no
garuntee that skill player A performs the same week in and week out, as the play breaks down Cam’s on of the best in the game finding the open man. Still, the reward if he turns into Cam’s saftey blanket far outweighs the risks.

Big Ole’ Bust – Marvin Jones: Maybe it’s low hanging fruit, but Marvin Jones has the easiest road to ruin of any WR in the entire league. For starters, Matthew Stafford is is entering his 8th NFL season, and his attempts have dropped significantly as his mileage piles up. With Golden Tate proving he can carry the mantle, it’s highly unlikely Jones (who has no history in the NFL of carrying an offense) will step in and replace the departing Calvin Johnson. It’s more likely that Stafford adjusts his targets to Tate, Ebron, and Abdullah and Jones is left as the 4th or 5th player in touches.

Bonus – Chris Hogan: It’s easy to overlook the former Bill as he dons the enemies attire with New England this year. Why? Well, Gronkowski, Edeleman, Lewis, and Amendola to name a few. But the truth is that it’s highly unlikely the New England offense stays healthy, and each of the names just mentioned has a lengthy injury history. Hogan is a sure handed blue collar guy who is likely to slide right in and pick up where guys like Lafell fit (when he was productive). He’s being drafted in the final rounds of drafts, so feel free to take a flier on him.

Top 10 (Quarterbacks)

In preperation for my personal position rankings, I’ll be taking a look at the top of the list at each offensive fantasy position.

  1. Cam Newton – Newton was a Fantasy stud last year, owning the feild with his arm as well as his legs. Adding a top teir WR back into the fold with the returning Kelvin Benjamin
    will mean good things for Super Cam this year.
  2. Aaron Rodgers – His 60% completion percentage was his career low as a starter, and much of that can be attributed to a lackluster run game and losing his number 1 receiver in Jordy Nelson for the entire year. He still managed nearly 4,000 yards and 30+ TDs in 15 games. If Nelson is ready to go and Lacy is even remotely the player he has been in the past, expect a wilsonreturn to greatness.
  3. Russell Wilson – If you believe the loss of Marshawn Lynch will make this offense a bit too one dimensional, then you’d be wrong. When he’s called on to make plays, all Wilson does is produce. He may not break records, but his ability to add 500-800 yards on the ground make him elite in terms of Fantasy.
  4. Drew Brees – A model of consistency, Brees again led the league in yards while completing nearly 70% of his passes. Another year with animproving O-line and 4 capable receivers means Brees can be counted on again to win Fantasy games.
  5. Andrew Luck – It’s not secret that Luck struggled mightily last year, missing significant time due to a plethora of injuries. Still, Luck has the goods – and the weapons – to produce at a high level. If they can keep him healthy, theres no reason to believe he’ll return to the elite signal caller we know he is.
  6. Ben Roethlisberger – The ceiling was raised a few years ago, and with Antonio Brown lining up to catch passes, you can’t expect too sharp a decline even as father time inches up behind Big Ben. He’s fallen a bit on my list with the news that Bryant will miss the entire season and his saftey blank in Le’Veon Bell will miss 4 games, and he may fall farther still.
  7. Carson Palmer – Old age seems to be an antiquated reason to skip on NFL QB’s in your fantasy leagues as Carson Palmer returns to the top 10 as a 36 year old. He’s got three fantasic receivers, a very good line, and a running game to help take off the pressure. Did we mention he takes care of the football? He may not be a flashy name, but he’ll get the job done.
  8. Philip Rivers – Rivers seems to never get the love that he deserves, but in the end he’ll throw the ball a ton which will mitigate any issues that may surround this offense. They’ll likely continue to easy Melvin Gordon into a larger roll, so expect games with 35+ attempts early on.
  9. Blake Bortles – I hear that we shouldn’t expect a repeat of the fantastic year we saw out of Bortles last year. I disagree. Hurns and Robinson are both great weapons and adding a successful down hill running in Chris Ivory will free up some plays over the middle. His legs can help him add another 250+ yards to what will likely be a 4,000 yard 30 TD campaign.
  10. Eli Manning – I’ll preface my inclusion in my top ten by saying I don’t really like Eli Manning. Not in the least, but he manages to find a way to put up fantasy numbers even while he’s managing ways to lose real NFL games. OBJ is Elite, Cruz (even at 50% of what he was) will attract some of the defense, and the kid they drafted, Sterling Shephard should give him more weapons to work with.

Missed the Cut

Tom Brady (his supension moved him from the top 10), Matt Ryan (so much hate for no reason. Has a top 3 WR catching the football), David Carr (close, but not there yet. Another up year in Oakland and he’ll be tough to deny), Tony Romo (he’s Eli Manning if Eli Manning got hurt every year. He’ll put up massive numbers when he’s healthy… which is likely less than 12 games).

 

Kelvin Benjamin Out For The Year

KelvinA tough blow came today as reports centered around a season ending ACL tear for Panthers star WR Kelvin Benjamin. After lighting up the league as a rookie, he’ll be sideline for the entire 2015 season, throwing further shadow across an already tough-to-gauge roster.

Cam Newton Impact: Don’t expect him to throw for 4,500 yards even with Benjamin in the line up. You can expect maybe a bit of a down turn passing yards, but he still has two towering red zone targets in Greg Olsen (6’5″) and rookie WR Devin Funchess (6’4″) so TD’s won’t be an issue.

Devin Funchess Impact: Temper your expectations! Obviously he’ll be in line to receive a bulk of the 140 targets that went to Benjamin last year, but he’s still a rookie, and he doesn’t have the pedigree of an Amari Cooper or Nelson Agholor. He’ll produce at a level acceptable of a fantasy WR3 but be mindful of over drafting just because of the injury to Benjamin.

Greg Olsen Impact: As a receiving tight end, there’s only a few more prolific in the league. This injury should make Olsen the #1 option for Cam Newton on most weeks, I’d expect a top 5 season from the big man.

Jonathan Stewart Impact: This should help Stewart early as the team may lean on the run a bit more than usual. If the usage increases for Stewart, expect injuries to follow.

Bonus Impact: For those who have Cameron Artis-Payne flagged as a late round flier, this is great news. A team that has been committed to the run for years is down it’s best receiver and will likely integrate more Artis-Payne than over using it’s aging RB1. Although Stewart still sits atop the depth chart, as a cuff, he’ll be far more productive than other backups in the league.