Joe Mixon, RB – CIN: With only one pre-season week in the books, any and all observation must be taken with a grain of salt, but Mixon certainly impressed in his NFL debut, rushing 6 times for 31 yards and hauling in one reception for 11 more. Mixon’s draft position has been slowly climbing as the hype machine gets louder, but a few more performances like this and the fears surrounding Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill’s presence on the roster will lose their weight.
Andrew Luck, QB – IND: The news out of Indianapolis is that Luck will be ready “around” the time of the season opener. This situation is sticky at best, considering that Luck is still being drafted as high as the #4 QB. Forecasting a QB’s effectiveness following his return from a lengthy recovery like Luck’s is difficult but I’ve already dropped Luck to #9 on my QB rankings as I anticipate some rust as he works his way back to game shape. If Luck misses any significant time, it could be even worse for owners who invested in him earlier in the preseason on the promises of Jim Irsay and the Colts front office.
Jordan Matthews, WR – BUF: Newly acquired wide out Jordan Matthews found himself injured following his very first Bills practice with what the team is reporting as a chip fracture in his sternum. At this point, he’s been labelled as week to week which makes for a messy situation as Matthews has to still learn the offense and his new role. While he may return from this injury quickly, it’s important to note that Zay Jones could very likely lead the passing game early on, and can be had for next to nothing at the end of drafts. If you’re high on Matthews in the Bills offense, just understand it could be a while before he pays off on the score sheet.
Alfred Morris, RB – DAL: Most (myself included) looked at Darren McFadden as the obvious stand in for Ezekiel Elliott’s 6 game suspension, but after a fine performance from the once-starter Morris, the waters are certainly muddied. I’m not suggestion that a single pre-season game would change the entire outlook on the Dallas backfield, but it’s far from the realm of possibility that Morris at least steals enough carries from McFadden to render either of them a flex starter at best. If I were forced to bet on either of them getting the bulk of the carries for 6 weeks, it’s still on McFadden, but I’d monitor the situation if you’re a Zeke owner who’s keen on snagging his handcuff.
So maybe I’ve beaten a dead horse a bit on the bounce back and sleeper picks for QB’s… after all how many are really going to get drafted? Still, there has to be a line in the sand for elite QB1 options and the rest of the group. Who (aside from Joe Flacco… who I will refrain from including in this article) has the potential for a breakout, top 10 season?
Least Risk: Philip Rivers – Los Angelas Chargers – Rivers slots in on my ranks around the 14th spot, meaning he only has to leap four of the QB’s ahead of him. While age is certainly a concern amongst gunslinger type QB’s like Rivers, there’s little evidence that he’s slowing down. It’s clear that, despite the return of Keenan Allen and excpected return of Travis Benjami, LA is committed to giving Rivers more weapons as they drafted one of the best wide outs in the 2017 draft in Mike Williams. Coupled with a capable run game, Rivers is locked and loaded for a massive year.
A Little Risk: Marcus Mariota – Tennessee Titans – If you’re convinced that the Titans are going to ease Mariota back into the playbook following his season ending injury, then by all means, pass on the talented QB. Adding Corey Davis doesn’t seem like they’re committed fully to a run-first scheme, although they certainly want to remain balanced. The upside through the air is modest at best as Mariota still conforms to the NFL game, but his ability to make yards on the ground keep defenses honest and give him space to work. Don’t be alarmed if he starts slow, he’ll be well worth the pick by the end of the season.
Most Risk: Andy Dalton – Cincinnatti Bengals – We’ve heard this one before; Andy Dalton is poised to break out. It certainly doesn’t help having to play fantastic defenses in the ACF North but with John Ross and AJ Green, Dalton has two exceptional burners, and newly aquired RB (via the draft) Joe Mixon rounds out an already formidable backfield capable of catching passes. It may be a bit of a stretch as we can expect a boring, balanced offense in Cincy, but I won’t be surprised if he catches lightning in a bottle to push that top 10 group.
With Giovani Bernard’s knee surgery taking longer than expected to recover, the news out of Cincinatti is that he may be questionable for week 1 (possibly beyond that). Joe Mixon figures to be the starter on day one, so Bernard was little more than a flex option in deeper leagues and for PPR formats, but this news seriously impacts his value.
If Hill can compliment Mixon, then expect the Bengals to take their time with Bernard. Temper expectations going into your draft, and pending a miraculous recovery, draft Bernard as a late round flier only.
It’s a simple fact that today’s NFL features a large number of teams that have shifted philosophies away from three down backs and towards a two or three back committee. This fact impacts fantasy preperation in two different ways: 1. It adds value to players like Marshawn Lynch who will dominate the touches in the backfield and 2. it creates a shroud of mystery around backfields with two good or great backs.
If you’re smart (lucky) enough to sift through the conjecture and select a back that emerges from a committee to workhorse (eg. Lamar Miller over Knowshon Moreno in 2014, or Moreno over Montee Ball in 2013) then you’ll avoid the fantasy pit that can suck your whole team in if you’re wrong. You can mitigate this risk by correctly evaluation these situation and valuing backs correctly.
Committee’s to Avoid
Cincinnati Bengals: Much like last years pre-season hype surrounding Giovanni Bernard, Jeremy Hills usurping of the throne has created a false sense of security in the Bengals backfield. If you look at the fantasy performance, Hill bested Bernard in Yards (1100 to 650) but he scored at roughly the same clip, only cresting 15 points a handful of times in PPR formats and averaging less than .05 points better per touch than Bernard. If you think the Bengals are going to just hand over the reigns to Hill you’d be wrong. Bernard will still be a big part of the offense, and may actually carry better value in PPR leagues due to his 3rd down ability. The chance for him to steal the starting job back from Hill is very real, so this is a backfield I’m staying away from at all costs if I can.
Arizona Cardinals: Andre Ellington had a rough year, but much of that could be attributed to the overall inconsistency in Arizona’s offense last year. The problem for Ellington is that they added RB David Johnson in the draft who should push Ellington for starting time and will likely eat into his production. Ellington was nothing to write home about without a young stud waiting in the wings and I’d argue that his value takes a steeper hit this year with a player who could potentially replace him as the starting RB.
Detroit Lions: One of the more underrated draft selections, Ameer Abdullah may not be running Joique Bell off the field, but his ability should keep Bell from being the defacto guy on all three downs in Detroit. A team that likes to throw the ball, there may not be as many touches for Bell to retain his value, causing me to avoid him at his current ADP.
Tennessee Titans: Bishop Sankey was a huge disappointment for fantasy owners who drafted him last year after being the first back selected in the NFL draft. He struggled to find holes and never really live up to the pre-season hype. The Titans went out and revamped each of their skill positions, adding Marcus Mariota, David Cobb, and Dorial Green-Beckham signaling a shift in offense. Sankey’s underwhelming performance and questions around his ability to transition to the NFL game could open the door early for Cobb to steal the starting spot. I would avoid Sankey in drafts and maybe look at Cobb late if he falls far enough.
New York Jets: This team seems to be a mess in the backfield every year. The experiment to add Chris Johnson did nothing to foster competition, and Chris Ivory plodded off with the starting role. Despite having a solid yet unspectacular year, the Jets showed they have little faith in him by adding cast off’s Stevan Ridley and Zac Stacy to compete. All three are capable NFL backs, but none of them are three down workhorses. If Ridley can hold on to the football, he may have the best chance to steal the bulk of the carries, but this is a committee I won’t touch with a ten foot pole.
Our previous exercise continues as we look at our teams in the middle. You may not agree with all of my rankings, but each of these teams pair good to great fantasy options with other question marks on offense.
23. Kansas City Chiefs
I know what you’re thinking, “they have Jamaal Charles!” That alone does not elevate this team higher on my list. Alex Smith is a fine game manager, but his deep ball is lacking and if the numbers from the WR’s last season indicate anything, this team doesn’t have a lick of consistency. Jeremy Maclin is an upgrade over Dwayne Bowe, but even this is speculative as Maclin could be the next WR to disappear from relevance. Travis Kelce has elite talent but had several brutal weeks to go with his successful ones. Worth drafting: Jamaal Charles is going to go in the first round, for good reason, but to expect 16 healthy games is unrealistic, Knile Davis is a fine handcuff. Travis Kelce finished near the top of TE’s but had some really bad weeks; draft with cautious optimism that he can be even better. Alex Smith is a QB2 or bench depth at best; he’ll never be a top 10 QB.
22. Oakland Raiders
Young, skilled, and unpredictable. This team could very well surprise and finish with several high profile fantasy heroes. Derek Carr showed flashes of brilliance last year, and the addition-by-subtraction move to let Darren McFadden go means the talented Latavius Murray will get the start in the backfield. Add Amari Cooper into the mix and you have the makings of a solid offensive team. Worth Drafting: Latavius Murray is a popular pick to elevate his game, especially after reports indicated they’ll be tailoring the offense to Murray’s strengths. Cooper will likely be valued a little high on draft day so you may be disappointed in year one. Carr showed he has what it takes to make it in the NFL, I expect him to elevate his game even more.
21. Minnesotta Vikings
There’s a lot of distraction with the Adrian Peterson saga still unfolding, but I’m operating under the assumption that he starts in week one for the Vikes. Even still, expect them to ease him back into the line up, lightening the load early. Teddy Bridgwater is in the same boat as Carr; a ton of talent but still has to prove how to use it. His WR’s are a bit of a question mark. Charles Johnson seems like he might be a breakout candidate, but Mike Wallace is an over the top receiver with little upside compared to his contemporaries. I’d love for Kyle Rudolph to bring it all together, as he has elite TE talent, but can’t stay on the field. Worth Drafting: Adrian Peterson could still be the AP of old, and many will bet that he is. At worst he’s still a RB1. Bridgewater has to do it with less weapons than the other youngsters in the league, so I figure he’ll struggle to find his stride early, but could suprise; a good upside QB 2 with no threat to his job. Maybe I just don’t like Mike Wallace, but I don’t think he’s as much of a difference maker going forward as I think they’ll look to involve Johnson and Patterson a bit more, both of whom are worth a look later in drafts. Kyle Rudolph will be less expensive than he has been in the past, I’d bet on the production if healthy.
20. Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton is only 26 years old, so the feeling that he’s past his prime is just wrong. He’s matured and should be healthy heading into the year. Top 5 finish isn’t out of the question, but a conservative view has him around 10 in my rankings. Jonathan Stewart has the pieces, but the health elludes him. He’ll be good when he’s on the field but I’d rather go elsewhere in the first 3 rounds. Kelvin Benjamin should benefit the most from Newton’s presence, and should be a top 10WR target. Worth Drafting: Newton and Benjamin need each other for success, as the other pieces are lacking. Stewart is a fine back but I’d bet it’s more probable than not that he misses time. Cotchery in PPR leagues could be worth a look in the middle rounds, or a late flier in non-PPR.
19. San Fransisco 49ers
Every year there’s a QB that I think is going to elevate to the top teir. Last year it was Ben Roethlisber, this year it’s Colin Kaepernick. He struggle last year trying to adjust to a pocket passing role. In the off season he’s worked tirelessly to improve his efficiency and I expect hiim to see a spike in fantasy production. Carlos Hyde will likely get drafted far to early, and I caution against over hyping a player that has never been a full time starter. Adding Torrey Smith means more room for Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin to run. Both should continue to see good production, and Smith should benefit from Kaep’s strong arm down the feild. Worth Drafting: My bold prediction is Kaepernick finishes inside the top 10 at his position. Boldin is a machine and should produce, and Vernon Davis will bounce back. Carlos Hyde will look good for stretches but I don’t want him as my RB1.
18. New England Patriots
At this time, Brady is expected to miss 4 games, meaning a quarter of the season will feature backup Jimmy Garoppolo. Despite that the experts think he’s still the best QB in the division, I sense a down tick in production for each of New Englands big guns. Edeleman relies on Brady’s accuracy and LaFell is usually a later option. Can Garoppolo read the D like Brady and involve all of his weapons? Brady could beat his suspension which would likely rank this offense higher. Worth Drafting: Tom Brady has a chip on his shoulder, if you can survive 4 weeks with a backup QB, he’s worth a pick. I don’t draft a Patriots RB ever, for reason that should be obvious. Blount is not an elite NFL running back. Gronk shouldn’t see too much of a dip in production, but LaFell and Edeleman may struggle for a few weeks.
17. Cincinnatti Bengals
Andy Dalton has been the most frustrating of NFL quarterbacks in terms of fantasy. He produces for a time, then he kills you for a time. AJ Green is a stud, even if his numbers took a hit with Dalton’s struggles last year. The big question is does the team invest in surprise starter Jeremy Hill or does it go back to Gio Bernard? Worth Drafting: Dalton has shown he can be a low end QB starter, but you’re asking a lot from a player that struggled at times. A.J. Green is a safe pick, he’s as elite as any in the league. Despite Jeremy Hill’s success on the field, he put up similar numbers to Gio Bernard when he started, I feel a committee coming on.
16. New Orleans Saints
If you’re convinced Mark Ingram finally hit his stride, that could spell disaster for Drew Brees as he’s tumbling down draft boards with managements admittance that they’d like to balance the offense. No more will Brees attempt 650 passes, and this hurts them across the board. Brandin Cooks is a great WR and should do well taking over for Colston as the #1, but Ingram is the big question mark. An underwhelming start to his career was instantly wiped out of the minds of fantsy owners after a solid, if unspectacular year. Worth Drafting: Despite the reports, I’m not convinced Ingram can carry the load, and if Brees falls due to the buzz, I wouldn’t hesitate to draft him in the 3rd or 4th round. Ingram isn’t going to hit a lot of home runs but he should avg around 4 YPC and have a handful of TD’s. The fear is injuries or regression. Cooks is a stud in the making, and Brees will be looking to him often. Colston is another player who may fall beyond their value in your draft. PS. Josh Hill is not Jimmy Graham, so don’t mistake the two come draft day.
15. Baltimore Ravens
When Torrey Smith left, I was worried that Flacco lost his deep threat, but Breshad Perriman could prove to be an even better reciever than Smith. Steve Smith Sr. will likely prove his doubters wrong, and Justin Forsett finally provides stability in the backfield even with Taliefaro lurking in the wings. Worth Drafting: As always, Flacco takes a hit due to the scheme Baltimore runs, but his up weeks are great, solid back up or QB 2 in two quartback leagues. In ways that I don’t with other backs, I believe Forsett can run the football well enough to be a fantasy contributor. Steve Smith will be good again, and Perriman should be one of the rookies to perform in the top 20 of his position.
14. Arizona Cardinals
The team didn’t replace Ellington in the draft, meaning they think he can still perform. Maybe they’re not ready to say that a healthy Carson Palmer will make things different across the board. The stable of WR’s in Arizona are deep and talented, and they should create mismatches across the field. Worth Drafting: Palmer when healthy has the tools around him to be a top 15QB. Fitzgerald is a safe bet to be a top 10 WR and between Michael Floyd and John Brown, defenses will have a hard time adjusting. All of these players will be in play come draft day. Andre Ellington will either play well or be pushed out by the talented David Johnson, who I’d look at as a sleeper in the late rounds. Either way, there should be more consistency the backfield to open up the passing game.
13. Philadelphia Eagles
I personally think all things being equal, Sam Bradford is a superior quarterback to Nick Foles. Add in DeMarco Murray and you have the makings of a good to great offense. Jordan Matthews is only 22 but has big play ability and Chip Kelly has excelled with speedy talented players. The biggest boon for this team was the addition of DeMarco Murray. If LeSean McCoy’s troubles were less about running lanes and more about the runner, Murray should be in for another good year with a ton of touches. Worth Drafting: DeMarco Murray is still a top 5 back, and in Chip Kelly’s offense has a chance to finish at the top of the league again. Bradford will be a sexy pick on draft day, but try to maximize value at the QB position and he may not be that guy. Cooper should continue to see targets on intermediate routes and Matthews was a beast as a 21 year old, but Nelson Agholor could eat into his touches just a bit. Speaking of Agholor, he’s a quality sleeper candidate on a good offensive team. Look at him later in drafts.