The story line for both of these teams has been somewhat consistent as the focus on first year starter Mitch Trubisky and free agent price Case Keenum has dominated for each team.
Mitch Trubisky continued to look improved as he completed nearly 65% of his passes for 90 yards and a TD and INT a piece. It wasn’t a world beater stat line for sure, but against a stout Bronco’s defense and without is top wide out Allen Robinson, it was a solid showing for the young QB.
Likewise, both Trey Burton and Anthony Miller looked the part as they each were used early in roles that should see them succeed. Burton’s 4 catches for 45 yards and a TD is the kind of stat line that has fantasy owners buzzing about his potential. While Miller didn’t see the endzone on any of his three catches, the young slot receiver should continue to see his usage upped as the season approaches.
On the other side of the field, Trubiski’s counterpart Case Keenum was efficient as well, throwing only 13 passes for 78 total yards. Still, the lack of depth at QB shows how secure his job is in Denver, as Chad Kelly is a solid depth piece at best and Paxton Lynch is no lock to make it to the season on a roster.
The receiving game was a bit underwhelming as the offense spread the ball around to 16 different players, no one seeing more than Emmanuel Sanders 3 for 27. Demaryius Thomas’ wrist injury opens up space for buzzy youngster Courtland Sutton to impress. While he only had the one catch for a 16 yard TD, he’s a player to target in the later rounds.
Neither teams rushing game was impressive, though, as Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen’s roles are secured in the bears offense, and Royce Freeman continues to be the back most used on rushing downs. It’ll be a question as to how much use Freeman will get across three downs with Booker still there to leach passing downs, but he’s distanced himself from some of the other rookie backs as he inches ever closer to the starting job in Denver.
It seems that lately, all anyone wants to talk about is the incoming class of rookie backs and what their fantasy contributions may be. While I agree that the topic is a hot button debate, there still exists a narrative surrounding second year starter Mitch Trubisky, and what he’s capable of with Matt Nagy as his head coach.
While the offensive Coordinator for Kansas City, Nagy took a career “game manager” in Alex Smith and improved on his down the field passing game. From 2016 to 2017, Smith improved from QB15 (15.5 points per game) to QB3 (19.9 points per game). Using data over at PlayerProfiler.com it’s easy to see the transformation just by looking at the numbers.
- In 2016, Smith was the QB15 with 15.5 points per game. This was a result of a lack of dynamic play calling; he was 21st in attempts (489), 15th in red zone attempts (70), and 26th in deep balls attempted (46).
- In 2017, he was 3rd in points per game at 19.9. He finished 9th in red zone attempts (68), 6th in deep ball attempts (68), and 2nd in deep ball completion percentage at around 45%
Now, this kind of growth can’t be expected to just pop up in Trubisky’s game despite the talk that it will. Trubisky was QB29 in points per game last year, and many of his metrics graded out even more poorly than Smiths’ 2016 season. While I do expect him to creep out of the basement in terms of down the field passing (he was 32nd among qualifying QB’s with on 30 passes over 20 yards last year), it may be a bit extreme to expect this team to pass the ball with enough consistency to produce a player worth starting every week.
Last year the Bears finished 29th in Passing Play Percentage (data provided by teamrankings.com) with 52%. With Jordan Howard a safe bet to collect 275 carries, it’s reasonable to expect Trubisky to have somewhere in the 475 attempts range. Our prediction for a full season is as follows:
- Passing: 470 attempts, 290 completions, 3450 yards, 24 TDs and 15 INTs
- Rushing: 50 rushes, 315 yards, 2 TDs
Overall, the Dr. expects about a QB14 finish, but with any young QB the range of outcomes is somewhat severe. If he regresses with a new scheme, we could be cutting bait with him early. Still, at an average draft day price of about 18th round, he’s likely your back up QB, and if he pans out as we expect him to here, then he’s a steal at that current price.
19. Los Angeles Rams
Following a disappointing 2016, Todd Gurley bounced back in a big way, proving that when given the opportunity, he is one of the best backs in the world. Of course, the Rams surprised across the board, with 2nd year QB Jared Goff taking a massive step forward, and guys like Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp coming up big in the possession game. With a balanced offense and an elite defense, there’s no telling how good this team can be.
Players Worth Drafting: Todd Gurley (ADP 2), Brandin Cooks (ADP 64), Robert Woods (ADP 67), Cooper Kupp (ADP 86), Jared Goff (ADP 127)
This off season saw the Sean McVay led Rams add former first round receiver Brandin Cooks to further bolster the offense. Of course Cooks, who’s been effective in both offenses he’s played in prior to this one, should see a fair share of targets, making both Gurley and Woods regression candidates in terms of targets and yards. Goff should continue to see early QB2 consideration, but it’s unlikely he’ll push into the QB1 territory even with the added weapons; this team is still Gurley’s at the end of the day.
Deep Sleeper: Don’t misconstrue his inclusion as anything other than recognizing the potential. Last season, Tyler Higbee didn’t see enough of the field to be a real difference maker, but 2018 could see more involvement for the Ram’s 2017 second round pick. While this team figures to continue to favor the run game, Cooks’ addition may signal a balancing between the pass and run games, and Higbee offers far pass catching skills than Gerald Everett. As a waiver wire add, he’ll certainly come cheap.
18. Oakland Raiders
What a difference a year makes, as teams who heavily targeted the Oakland Raiders found themselves disappointed as all three of Carr, Cooper, and Marshawn Lynch all severely under performed. With Jon Gruden signed on to coach the team into the future, there are now new questions that need to be answered. Is this team really going to commit heavily to the run game? If so, then why add two potential difference makers to a passing game that only 2 years ago was the toast of the town?
Players Worth Drafting: Amari Cooper (ADP 48), Marshawn Lynch (ADP 56), Jordy Nelson (ADP 94), Derek Carr (ADP 134), Martavis Bryant (ADP 160), Jared Cook (ADP 162), Doug Martin (ADP 177)
When Gruden walked through the doors in Oakland, it hardly hit the frame before in walked Martavis Bryant, Jordy Nelson, and Doug Martin. These three players certainly represent a shifting of philosophy, and incumbent starters have been placed on notice. Still, outside of Carr and Coopers security in this offense, it’s anyone’s best guess as to who’s the next options will be. Does Lynch have enough to hold off the mercurial Muscle Hamster? Can Bryant stay on the field long enough to show why everyone was in love with his talent? Is Jordy Nelson all washed up? Only time can answer these questions.
Deep Sleeper: With so many new faces, it’ll be on players like Jared Cook to help the team transition to it’s new look. With an average of about 5.5 targets per game since 2013, Cook has been an underrated TE commodity for years; one that could be a true breakout candidate in 2018. After starting 16 games for the first time in his career, the veteran is locked in as the starter and a floor of 90 targets and 60 catches is attractive considering he’s routinely being ranked outside of the low end TE2 range.
17. Chicago Bears
It seems strange to list the Bears as a “team on the rise” but the truth is that trusting the process seems to be working well for the Bears. After years of futility, the Bears finally have their QB of the future ready to take the field, and I’m firmly in the camp that supports Tribusky as an above average NFL quarter back. It helps that they added as many weapons as they did with Allen Robinson and Trey Burton arriving as free agents and Anthony Miller, the rookie out of Memphis, arriving in the 2nd round of the 2018 draft.
Players Worth Drafting: Jordan Howard (ADP 29), Allen Robinson (ADP 41), Tarik Cohen (ADP 91), Trey Burton (ADP 112), Mitchell Trubisky (ADP 157), Anthony Miller (ADP 176)3
Of course, having a rushing game that features the complimentary Howard and Cohen doesn’t hurt. With protection, Trubisky should have plenty of opportunities to succeed. Allen Robinson is a true #1, and gives them the best receiving option since Alshon Jeffry, and Trey Burton is still slightly underrated in terms of pass catching ability. We’ve seen this movie before, and the big, sure handed TE seems to be a safety blanket for many young QBs. It may have more to do with a lack of history, but Burton could easily finish as a top 5 Tight End in 2018.
Deep Sleeper: With other rookie WRs receiving more attention, Anthony Miller is flying under the radar in terms of fantasy relevance. With Chicago having a good blend of skill sets, Miller looks as though he’s destined for the slot in this offense. As a complimentary talent to the down the field threat of Robinson, he could be in line for a ton of targets as a rookie, pushing him into the WR3 territory for me.
16. Cincinnati Bengals
Welp, Marvin Lewis is back, and my expectations for the Bengals remains middle of the road. As a regular season team, they seem to always tease, and this year feels no different even from a fantasy perspective. Despite possessing gobs of talent, both A.J. Green and Joe Mixon feature lower floors than the rest of the players around them in drafts; you’re as likely to see a bust season as you are a top 10 season, and much of that comes from a history of misusing it’s best players.
Players Worth Drafting: A.J. Green (ADP 18), Joe Mixon (ADP 36), Tyler Eifert (ADP 135), Giovani Bernard (ADP 147), John Ross (ADP 191)
Outside of the obvious, the Bengals have a handful of players who have yet to put together enough consistency to be more than flier options. Tyler Eifert has plenty of talent, but injuries may threaten to ruin what was once a promising career. Expecting more than bye week production from any one else on this roster (Andy Dalton included) would be to hitch your wagon to a horse with no legs.
Deep Sleeper: In completely contradictory fashion, I’ll cite John Ross as one of my favorite end-of-the-draft sleepers. While there’s a little risk that he’s nothing more than another Bengals receiving bust, selecting that kind of talent in the 20th round or later is just too good to pass up. His 2017 was forgettable, largely due to injury, and he’s a player I’m betting on breaking out in his sophomore season.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Another off season full of controversy has many souring on even the most consistent fantasy performers. With Jameis Winston set to miss the first 3 games of the season, this is an offense that won’t hit it’s stride until weeks into the season, making the prospect of adding a Mike Evans or Ronald Jones in the first 4 – 5 rounds terrifying. While the talent is there, casting Ryan Fitzpatrick as a starting NFL quarterback is a movie I wouldn’t pay to see.
Players Worth Drafting: Mike Evans (ADP 24), Ronald Jones (ADP 59), DeSean Jackson (ADP 110), Jameis Winston (ADP 133), O.J. Howard (ADP 153), Cameron Brate (ADP 163)
It’s important to note that the receiving game suffered the least during Fitzpatrick’s starts in 2017. Both Jackson and Evans performed similarly with him than without him, so that should calm your nerves when selecting either player. It hurts Hward and Brate the most as the gun slinger from Harvard hardly targeted his tight ends. Drafting a player not named Mike Evans is a bit of a risk this year, but one that may pay off as drafters let Bucs slide.
Deep Sleeper: While I don’t expect him to contribute early on, Chris Godwin may have an opportunity for targets as Evans and Jackson both exist mostly as down the field threats. Given his catch rate of about 62%, he’ll only need about 60-80 targets to become fantasy relevant, especially given that he’ll likely only cost a roster spot as a waiver wire guy. With a little luck, he could be pushing a WR3 ceiling, something that’s immensely important from your high value low risk roster spots.
I will readily admit that when it comes to drafting a tight end, if it’s not Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce, you’re probably not spending a premium pick on the position anyways. With that, take these revelatory musings with a grain of salt.
Green Bay Packers Sign Jimmy Graham
The only major offseason move at TE that is sure to throw a wrench into the rankings gears, Jimmy Graham finds himself moved to a team that presents him with red zone opportunities that owners have pined over since his days in New Orleans. While the recent track records for tight ends in Green Bay may leave you skeptical, the truth is you should be excited about the potential here.
Without Jordy Nelson in the Red Zone, the Packers are going to have to lean on Graham and his basketball pedigree to score points. His usage between the 20’s will continue to be unpredictable, as I expect a few bad days out of him, but the potential for double digit touchdowns is enough to take the plunge in the middle rounds (only after Gronk and Kelce have been selected).
Indianapolis Colts Sign Eric Ebron
While it’d be easy to just write Ebron off as a monster bust at this point in his career, it’d be just as easy to say a change of scenery will do the former first round pick a bit of good. While he won’t likely live up to the massive hype surrounding him as a rookie, he still has plenty of good football ahead of him as he’s still only 24 years old.
To ignore his pedigree would be to ignore the potential for him in an Indianapolis offense that can’t seem to figure out how to run the football. Even with Andrew Luck sidelined last year the Colts forced over 100 targets to tight end Jack Doyle. Of course, the offense could stick with Doyle as it’s lead TE but the talent of Ebron is too much to deny at this point. He should get every opportunity to steal those 100 looks and make some noise come the regular season.
Chicago Bears Sign Trey Burton
One of the most surprising names out of last years superbowl run was that of back up tighten Trey Burton, who stepped in when Zach Ertz went down late in the season and showed flashes of brilliance in limited work. With his 5 TD’s on only 31 targets, it’s clear that the big bodied Burton has what it takes to be a red zone threat.
The transition to a younger offense in Chicago could mean disfuntion, but it could also mean plenty of looks by a young quarterback. Much like our view of Allen Robinson in this same offense, the size and position played by Burton could mean he and Mitchell Trubisky form a check down symbiosis that makes for a great season for what is likely to be a late round pick.
Honorable Mention: With a general lack of elite talent at the position comes the mirrored lack of worth while transactions involving said players. Aside from the three above, the TE friendly New Orleans Saints signed Benjamin Watson in the offseason to bring veteran leadership. He won’t win you a championship but he could certainly help in spot starts off the bench. Likewise, the Seahawks brought in his former teammate Ed Dickson to fill the big shoes left by Jimmy Graham. Truthfully, I think he’s little more than a flyer but could prove to be more valuable in a much better offense.
While the QB signings have dominated the landscape, the largest amount of quality transactions belongs to the wide receiver position. There were several high profile players changing teams, so buckle up while we take a quick look at the most impactful.
Los Angeles Rams Aquire Brandin Cooks
By now you’ve probably heard some of the absurd statistics surrounding the Rams new wideout. For example, only he and Antonio Brown have had 1,000+ yards and 7TDs for three straight years. What’s even more impressive is that he’s done it as a part of the Saints and Patriots offenses who often eschew consistency in favor of game planning.
Now in LA, he’ll be playing for a coach in Sean McVay that has a history of targetting his home run hitters a ton. In 2014 and 2016, McVay’s game plan included an average of 100+ targets for DeSean Jackson, a similar player to Cooks, while still maintaining a healthy number of targets for other receivers. This means that where Sammy Watkins failed, Cooks could florish. Garish numbers may be a pipe dream, but the ceiling for Cooks in LA could be considered the 60-70 catch and 1200 yards range.
Cleveland Browns Sign Jarvis Landry
Cleveland seems to be going all in this offseason, bringing in studs like last years receptions leader Jarvis Landry. Averaging 100 catches per year over his 4 year career in Miami, Landry brings crisp route running and a knack for making difficult catches to a team that feature an elite #1 in Josh Gordon, but not much besides question marks beyond him.
While it may be a bit of a stretch to expect another 100+ receptions this year, Landry somehow finds a way to be important every week. He’ll need to do better than last years 8.8 yards per catch if he wants to be more than just a PPR target, but Cleveland could see him finally turn into the elite WR he’d been billed as previously.
Baltimore Ravens Sign Michael Crabtree
One of the NFL’s most underrated receivers, Michael Crabtree seems to be the perfect fit for one of the most underrated NFL teams, the Baltimore Ravens. While they certainly weren’t good last year, part of the problem was Flacco’s receiving corps consisted of aging veterans, oft injured disappointments, and draft busts. Crabtree is a grinder who manages to get to footballs that others may not.
While it certainly took a few years for Crabtree to live up to the draft hype he experienced in San Fansisco, Baltimore could be a make or break stop on his NFL journey. As the defacto #1 in this offense, and the strong armed Joe Flacco still hucking it up, it could be a big year for him. Unless Baltimore adds a significant receiving piece, I expect 120+ targets for Crabtree, and the rest is up to him.
Oakland Raiders Sign Jordy Nelson
It wasn’t long ago that Nelson was considered one of the top 5 wideouts in the league. One major injury after another derailed his career and saw him jettisoned from one of the top offenses in football. Queue the free agency period, and Nelson finds himself playing for the Raiders opposite one of the leagues most mercurial slot receivers in Amari Cooper.
What Nelson brings is a red zone threat with reliable hands and the experience to get open and make plays. He won’t wow you with speed, but he’ll be as effective as Crabtree at his worst, or he could excede expectations entirely and see his numbers bounce back to the 1,000 yards and 8 TD range.
New England Patriots Sign Jordan Matthews
On the surface this may not qualify as an earth shattering signing by any stretch, but the truth is that between the departing Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola, not to mention pass catching back Dion Lewis, there’s 235 targets up for grabs and no guarantee that Gronkowksi will be back next year. With so much opportunity and an offense that has always passed first, Matthews could be in line for a monster stat line if he can mesh with Brady early.
But what can we reasonably expect from Matthews, who toiled with injuries in 2017 that made for a disappointing year one in Buffalo? The saving grace is he’s never played with a quarterback like Brady. If he can make the roster (which is no safe bet with New England) then I expect something along the lines of his numbers in Philly, around 70 catches, 900 yards and 6-9 TDs.
Chicago Bears Sign Allen Robinson
It may not be the highest profile reciever gig in the NFL, but there’s something to be said about swapping one team for one similarly constructed. They both feature a run first scheme and young, unpredictable quarterbacks. What Robinson has going for him in Chicago is that aside his main competition is a hobbled Kevin White and Atlanta’s #3 guy Taylor Gabriel.
It’s natural for a young QB to latch onto his most talented receiver and Robinson certainly checks off all the boxes for a franchise #1 wide receiver. With plenty of targets up for grabs, and gobs more talent than Meredith or Wright brought to the table, a top 5 season in targets sets Robinson up nicely. Sure, he’ll have to do something with those targets, but his floor is relatively high compared to others on this list.
Honorable Mentions: The Dolphins losing Jarvis Landry forced them to go out and sign two slot receivers in Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson, with ‘Dola being the more accomplished by far. Injuries will always be a concern with Amendola, but sliding in to the role vacated by the aformentioned Landry should give him plenty of fantasy relevence. Sammy Watkins on the other hand, joins a Chiefs offense that is going to transition from a veteran in Alex Smith, to a 2nd year quarter back in Patrick Mahomes. It’s not an unlikely scenario to see Watkins become a saftey blanket for the young QB, especially given Tyreek Hill’s boom or bust profile, but the truth is the offense is likely to go through the backfield.
A suprising start and all-too-familiar finish for the Minnesota Vikings was only major surprise from a division that’s had clearly defined roles for it’s four teams for the last 5 – 6 years. Green Bay is the class of the division and Minnesota looks like it’s ready to push them, but Detroit and Chicago both look to toil at the bottom of the standings for some time yet.
Green Bay Packers
Notable Fantasy Stars: Aaron Rodgers (QB1), Jordy Nelson (WR6), Martellus Bennett (TE9), Ty Montgomery (RB23), DeVante Adams (WR18), Randall Cobb (WR44)
Synopsis – Aaron Rodgers looks to pace the QB field again this year, and GB finally gave up on the TE experiments and signed big name free agent Martellus Bennett to provide an additional weapon on one of the NFC’s best offenses. Jordy Nelson will be his regular studly self, but DeVante Adams and Ty Montgomery figure to be the middle ground players who may put up better numbers than expected. Unfortunately that means Randall Cobb’s time in the spotlight is likely at an end as he drifts further down the depth chart.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Kyle Rudolph (TE9),Sam Bradford (QB24), Dalvin Cook (RB26), Stefon Diggs (WR28), Latavius Murray (RB36), Adam Thielen (WR46)
Synopsis – Now entrenched as the starter, Sam Bradford returns his top two targets in Kyle Rudolph and Stefon Diggs as Minnesota looks to improve on a disappointing collapse. The addition of Latavius Murray and draft pick Dalvin Cook suggest that the Vikes should have a more balanced offense despite the departure of AP to New Orleans. This team also features one of the better sleeper candidates in Adam Thielen whos’s being drafted as a WR5 but has potential of Minnesota throws the football to approach WR3 numbers.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Eric Ebron (TE12), Matthew Stafford (QB16), Golden Tate (WR24), Ameer Abdullah (RB24), Theo Riddick (RB37), Marvin Jones (WR52)
Synopsis – Detroit figures to be a better fantasy team than real life football club again with Matt Stafford likely to approach 600+ attempts for the 5th time in his career. The duo of Golden Tate and Marvin Jones is going to be difficult to quantify as Stafford tends to lean on one or the other but rarely together; Tate should be the more consistent option despite the lack of TDs. Those will be Eric Ebron’s calling card as this team lacks a true bruiser in the goal line area. Abdullah, if healthy, will carry the bulk of the carries, but Theo Riddick remains one of the best PPR options in all of football.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Jordan Howard (RB6), Mike Glennon (QB27), Mitch Trubisky (QB37), Cameron Meredith (WR42), Kevin White (WR57)
Synopsis – With any bottom feeder team, one must exhibit caution when selecting players. Jordan Howard is the safest bet, and in standard scoring could be a top 5 back this year. Mike Glennon showed flashes in Tampa Bay, but neither Cameron Meredith nor Kevin White can be relied upon as a true number one receiver. If either or are healthy to start the year you can risk a late round pick but temper your expectations.
As Eric Decker continues to recover from hip and shoulder injuries that stole most of his 2016 season, news is coming out of New York that Woody Johnson is planning on cutting the veteran wideout before the end of the week. Of course, Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson benefit the most by being bumped up the depth chart, but take that with a grain of salt as the Jets offense looks to be below average again.
What teams could use Decker?
I’m not reporting rumors of any kind, these speculations are made based on my own observations.
Baltimore Ravens – With the retirement of Steve Smith, the Ravens are left with a hole that they hope to fill with a healthy Breshard Perriman, but beyond he and the aging Mike Wallace, the Ravens could use a veteran presence like Decker.
Indianapolis Colts – T.Y. Hilton is fantastic, but the Colts have a lack of consistent talent after Moncrief failed to live up to the hype and Philip Dorsett continues to be non-existent. The Colts will need to score points and Decker’s size and skill fit the offensive mold in Indy.
Kansas City Chiefs – I fully expect the Chiefs to use Hill and Kelce as their two top targets, but the void left to Chris Conley may be better filled with a veteran presence. Of course it’ll likely come down to the contract as the Maclin cut seemed to be about the money. If he fits in the cap it wouldn’t hurt to have a deeper stable of wideouts.
Chicago Bears – The Bears look like they’ll be a mess and maybe that’ll disuade them from adding talent or from Decker considering them, but between Meredith and White there’s no garuntee that this team starts the season with an actual #1. Decker could fill that void.
Carolina Panthers – If you believe last year was an aberation and this team is still good enough to contend for a championship, then Decker would be a fantastic weapon to add to Newtons arsenal. Funchess, despite preseason buzz every year, has been a disappointment and the focus of defenses has shifted due to lack of talent beside Olsen and Benjamin (for the three weeks he’s healthy).
Los Angeles Rams – This is a team without a true number one. Tavon Austin is a fine little player, but lack of size and competition has this team a few weapons away from success. With it becoming more apparent that Goff will be under center come week one, the Rams would be smart to add weapons to help him succeed in the NFL.
Where do you think is the most likely landing spot for Decker? Is it one of the teams above or does he end up a surprise signing for a contender looking to put them over the top? Let us know in the comments!
- 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.
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?