It was a bit of a shock when the Cleveland Browns announced they’d signed former NFL leading rusher Kareem Hunt to a contract ahead of the league handing down his official suspension. As many have pointed out, this seems to be a nod from former Chiefs GM John Dorsey who drafted Hunt in the 3rd round 2 years ago.
Regardless of your feelings towards Hunt, we’re left to unpack the effect this signing may have on incumbent backfield mates Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson.
Prior to the signing, both backs filled a particular role, with Chubb the exciting youngster chewing up the early downs and Duke as the third down closer; a specialist who’s receiving ability was elite among all running backs. Now there’s serious doubt as to who’s role is secure in the offense.
Of course, it’s all moot until we know the terms of the contract and what, ultimately, the suspension will be. If Hunt doesn’t miss a lot of games, it should give Chubb truthers migraines as the 2nd year back is no longer a shoe-in for RB1 volume. Even Duke Johnson’s touches aren’t secure given Hunts excellence in the passing game for Kansas City. I’m not ready to make major changes to my preliminary running back rankings, but I’ll be watching the situation closely.
After all, a lengthy suspension could erase any fears as Chubb would have the inside track to the starting gig after doing enough to lead the Browns to jettison Carlos Hyde in the middle of the season.
Following the trade of Corey Coleman to the Bills, it was Antonio Callaway who’s name started showing up on sleeper lists as he began to impress in camps. With Gordon still not practicing, and Coleman no longer in Cleveland, Callaway was looking better and better by the day.
Queue the traffic stop that now has him in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
In addition to the possession charge, he was also cited for driving with a suspended license. Of course, he’s claiming the bag of contraband didn’t belong to him, but the team is currently evaluating the evidence and will address the issue in the coming days/weeks. While Callaway shouldn’t be written off at this point, it’s important to monitor the situation as any discipline could hurt his chances at securing a role early in the season.
With Gordon expected to return at some point, and Jarvis Landry slowly morphing this receiving corps into his own, there is a question to how much work Callaway would receive even if he doesn’t face discipline. While I like him in deeper formats, I’m preaching caution if you’re considering him in redraft or shallower formats. If he faces any kind of suspension, then it’d be hard to convince me he’s worth drafting in any format.
Every year we examine the NFL’s most volatile committees in hopes that we can navigate the potential mine field and find the guys that will eventually rise to the top. Of course, this is one of those articles that must be taken with a grain of salt as many of these turn out to be black holes for fantasy contributors, but if you’re stuck drafting from a committee, this should help you decide where to turn.
New England Patriots
It wouldn’t be a committee report without the Patriots firmly at the top of the list. Of course, this year it’s a different look as the Pats selected Sony Michel in the first round (something the Patriots mostly never do). Also present on the roster are pass catching specialist James White, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillisleee, and Jeremy Hill.
Current ADP rankings show that Pats backs are being selected in this order: Sony Michel (52nd), Rex Burkhead (81st), James White (148th), Jeremy Hill (204th), Mike Gillislee (UN).
The best value may belong to James White in the 15th round. With his 90 targets last year, his value is equal to that of a decent WR3, yet he’s being selected in the “flier rounds” as teams look to fill in the bottom of their benches. Burkhead has shown promise before, but his role is so undefined that I’m loath to put a pick towards him in the 9th round.
This is the kind of committee that won’t be resolved at all this year, so over paying for a back like Sony Michel could be a sure fire way to torpedo your draft. I won’t suggest he won’t be valuable in fantasy terms, but understanding how the Patriots operate leads me to believe that ball control and inexperience should prohibit him from turning in a top 20 season in 2018.
Another team that’s been devoid of a true number one for a decade or more, the Lions did little to clear up it’s perennial committee by signing LeGarette Blount and drafting Kerryon Johnson to further muddy the future. With Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah still floating around, it’s going to be difficult for anyone to separate themselves from the pack in this backfield.
Current ADP draft data shows the following selection information: Kerryon Johnson (78th), LeGarette Blount (111th), Ameer Abdullah (114th), Theo Riddick (UN)
What concerns me is that Detroit has typically been a pass first team, and I don’t expect them to pound the ball with any great frequency this year either. The last time a Lions team had more than 400 attempts as a team was in 2014, and Reggie Bush and Joique Bell had about a 60/40 split.
Considering the consistency of this committee, expecting anything more than 200 carries for either Johnson or Blount is a pipe dream. My prediction is that Blount leads the team in carries with around 170, while Johnson sees 150 and Riddick/Abdullah/Zenner combine for around 30. If Riddick wasn’t as capable a passing down back, one could make an argument for Johnson to contribute in other ways, but as currently constituted, I’m not touching this backfield.
In typical Cleveland fashion, the Browns front office drafted Nick Chubb despite the hefty contract handed out in free agency to Carlos Hyde. Already on the roster is pass catching back Duke Johnson, who figures to remain involved as well. So what does this mean for the fantasy prospects of each back above? It means we have no real idea.
Here is the ADP data for the Cleveland backfield: Carlos Hyde (68th), Nick Chubb (93rd), Duke Johnson (123rd).
The ADP values above represent how difficult it is to value these Cleveland running backs. Of course, part of the problem is that the fantasy community is so in love with rookie running backs that it’s ignoring how much value Carlos Hyde has as a starter. Chubb, on the other hand, doesn’t factor into the passing game, and his draft profile suggests that a lack of game breaking skills and inability to break tackles makes him a distant second in terms of attempts.
What this does mean, is that Carlos Hyde is being seriously undervalued in the 7th round. Of the teams roughly 380 carries, I expect him to handle 240 or so, with Chubb and Johnson splitting the remaining 140. The passing game should shift mostly to Johnson, but don’t discount Hyde’s ability to play in the passing game either; he should have a healthy number of targets, even if Duke Johnson leads the way in the category.
The Dolphins don’t want to be a committee, but this time every year we seem to have the same conversation. Is the guy they picked really the guy to draft? Kenyan Drake had a nice little run at the end of the season, getting three games in with more than 15 rushes and a healthy dose of targets in the passing game. Unfortunately for him, the team brought in veteran Frank Gore and rookie Kalen Ballage to make his RB2 status look worse and worse by the day.
The draft values for these guys look as follows: Kenyan Drake (45th), Kalen Ballage (172), and Frank Gore (177th).
You may think, looking at those numbers, that Drake is a safe bet, but in my gut it feels that these two other backs are here for a reason. With no real track record prior to week 12, the success he had may be no more than a mirage. With two games against Buffalo, a game against New England, and one against Denver, it seems he may have benefited from mediocre opponents. Gore should be given a healthy portion of touches; just enough to hurt Drake’s prospects but not enough to make him draftable.
The more intriguing guy is Kalen Ballage. Miami has enjoyed using it’s backs in the passing game for years and while many of Jarvis Landry’s targets should go to Parker/Amendola/Stills, he stands out as the most capable pass catcher of the trio. If he can pass block, and it sounds like he won’t have a problem, he could see a larger time share than we expect. At 45th overall, I’m not touching Drake without some kind of assurance from HC Adam Gase on his usage. At this point, I’m willing to take a flyer on Ballage, but not much more.
Green Bay Packers
This is a pass first team, so trying to target the running back to own is like trying to decide which warm bottle of water to take quench your thirst with. It’s been years now since Eddie Lacy was a top tier fantasy back, and every year someone else has inhabited the collective minds of fantasy football, and every year we seem to be wrong. Last year it was Ty Montgomery who was the draft season darling; I cautioned you against using a high pick on him. He proved me right.
This year, it’s Jamal Williams who has the “inside track” to the bulk of the carries, but what does that even mean in this offense?
Here are the draft positions for this particular backfield: Jamaal Williams (87th), Aaron Jones (91st), Ty Montgomery (101nd).
Green Bay, not surprisingly, doesn’t run the ball as often as it’s opponents. Of it’s 386 attempts, only 326 of them went to the running backs groups. Ty Montgomery isn’t likely to have more than 40-60 attempts, but that still only leaves around 250-275 rushes for two backs that had, at one point in 2017, held the starter role for this team.
While Williams will have the first stab at the job thanks to Aaron Jones’ suspension, it’s important to note that he was uninspiring with the touches he did get. His 556 yards on 153 carries was good for an underwhelming 3.6 yards per carry. While it was in a smaller sample size, Aaron Jones 5.5 yards per carry looked a lot better from a fantasy perspective.
Drafting any of these backs is a crap shoot, but my breakdown is thus: target Montgomery as a late round flier in PPR leagues, and target Jones in the 9-11th round as a stash. His 2 game suspension shouldn’t prohibit him from wining the job as he was the best suited for 3 downs last year.
The Eagles haven’t had a legit lead back since it shipped LeSean McCoy out years ago during the Chip Kelley debacle. Instead, they’ve been one of the most predictable committees in the NFL. Since McCoy’s final season in Philly (2014), the highest attempts total was DeMarco Murray’s 193 the season after. Since then, it’s been names like Ryan Matthews and LeGarrette Blount leading the committee.
While it’s unlikely to change dramatically in 2018, the addition of Jay Ajayi may clear things up a little bit. We do expect Darren Sproles to handle a lot of the passing downs when healthy, but of the remaining backs, Ajayi represents the teams best chance at stability with Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood not profiling as a three down back.
A quick at the draft positions for these backs looks like this: Jay Ajayi (32nd), Corey Clement (114th), Darren Sproles (UN)
Still, expecting Ajayi to have 200+ carries is a bit optimistic. It’s hard to qualify head coach Doug Pederson’s track record with running backs because Jamal Charles was hurt every year but one when he was the OC in Kansas City, but when he played, the Chiefs gave the football to Charles a lot. Could that be a sign of things to come with Ajayi representing the best talent he’s had to work with in Philly?
I’d argue at his current draft position, Ajayi is far more stable than some of the rookie backs ahead of him. I don’t expect an RB1 finish, but he’s a solid candidate for RB2 numbers. Likewise, I’m not touching Clement unless it’s as a cuff in deep leagues. Sproles offers a little value in PPR formats, but his health and age don’t inspire confidence that he’ll finish the year healthy.
The Big Finish
While these backs will cost you far less draft capital than some of their contemporaries, it’s important to stay grounded. Overvaluing players because of the research your doing now can cost you big time if you hold on to them too long. These are the perfect players to throw darts at because you can drop them pretty quick. As always, adjust your rankings accordingly (maybe with a few of these guys highlighted), and happy drafting!
On Monday, July 23rd, it was announced that Josh Gordon would miss the start of training camp due to what was labelled as “non-football illness”. It’s since been confirmed that he did NOT fail another drug test, in fact it’s his willingness to remain sober in the face of his continued anxiety that has him seeking assistance from the league to treat the condition without alcohol or marijuana.
Currently being drafted in ESPN standard leagues as the 16th WR off the board (WR37) the anticipation is that he’ll return to his lofty heights (he led the league in receiving yards the last time he played a full season.) Is he worth that kind of draft capital?
I’d argue no.
While the situation will certainly require further monitoring, the truth is he’s a high risk to relapse, and given the current situation, I’d say he’s worried about it as well. While the talent to pay off on a 4th round pick is certainly there, I think there’s far safer value’s to be had.
Dr. Fantasy would like to extend our sympathies, though, as Gordon attempts to tackle his demon’s without returning to the substances that nearly derailed his career. While we’re hopeful he can will his way through it, we won’t be drafting him anywhere near his current ADP.
14. New York Giants
It may come as a surprise to many, but I feel that this roster could be even higher on this list if I was convinced the O-Line had improved. I love the addition of Nate Solder, but it remains to be seen if the Giants can give Eli Manning enough time to find his receivers. It helps getting Beckham back. Between the passing game and Saquon Barkley’s arrival, this offense should keep defensive coordinators guessing and give the Giants plenty of plays to run to keep Eli on his feet.
Players Worth Drafting: Saquon Barkley (ADP 7), Odell Beckham Jr (ADP 12), Evan Engram (ADP 65), Sterling Shepard (ADP 121)
While it may seem like we’re overvaluing Barkley, the truth is that he fits the mold of a 3 down back, and despite Jonathan Stewart’s presence on the roster, I expect Barkley to have a massive number of touches. Just knowing he’ll see 275 rushes (or more) will mean more space to run for Eli’s three biggest weapons. While there may not be enough balls going to receivers to support all these weapons, the fact remains that Big Blue should be much improved over last year.
Deep Sleeper: It may be the first act of his swan song, but the Eli Manning should be inline for one of his best seasons in years. Don’t expect outrageous volume; my guess is that the Giants will opt to rush a bit more than pass, but he’s got the weapons to far outpace the projections that have him sitting just outside the draft able tier of QBs. If you need to pull the trigger on a super late QB, Manning is one I’d be comfortable taking.
13. Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are one of those teams that churn out reliable fantasy starters without despite never really feeling like an elite NFL team. Despite Philip Rivers still being disrespected by the fantasy community, it’s clear that owners trust the production of the two biggest stars in Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen. Of course, aside from volume, both players represent major concerns that may dissuade you from selecting them at their position near the top of your draft.
Players Worth Drafting: Melvin Gordon (ADP 13), Keenan Allen (ADP 15), Philip Rivers (ADP 125), Mike Williams (ADP 165)
Gordon is an interesting case in that he’ll have tons of volume (roughly 20 touches per game) but he’s not exactly taking the top off with a career yard per carry mark of under 4. Whether or not that’s a product of the system, the signs are there for regression should the volume change at all. Keenan Allen on the other hand represents one of the highest ceilings in the league despite feeling like an injury risk every time he steps on the field. Drafting a Charger takes guts, and while the reward can be great (both are considered top 12 in their respective positions) the risk is equally as jarring.
Deep Sleeper: It’s hardly a secret, but Mike Williams is popping up everywhere as a potential 2nd year breakout candidate. Thanks to his injury issues that kept him from turning into a fantasy stud last year, you have a limited window to grab the elite talent in a later round. If you happen to get him, understand that he’s a WR1 waiting to happen.
12. Cleveland Browns
Cleveland’s 1 – 31 record over the last two seasons may scare you away from drafting their players, but I’d argue that most of these guys are undervalued for that very reason. Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry are both top 25 threats, even in the same offense, and Duke Johnson remains under rated especially in PPR formats. The only major concerns I have are with Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb cannibalizing each other’s touches.
Players Worth Drafting: Josh Gordon (ADP 37), Jarvis Landry (ADP 55), Duke Johnson (ADP 78), Nick Chubb (ADP 111), Carlos Hyde (ADP 120), David Njoku (ADP 139), Tyrod Taylor (ADP 149)
Njoku may find himself the odd man out this year in the passing game with so many elite options for Tyrod Taylor to attack with. Josh Gordon has been heavily targetted (9-11 targets per game since 2012) and should continue to see the bulk of the targets, but don’t count out Landry for another 100 reception season. Don’t shy away from Taylor either; Baker Mayfield is going to hold a clipboard this year.
Deep Sleeper: Tyrod Taylor may have had a down year last year, but his weapons improved exponentially compared to what he had to work with in Cleveland. While his ADP has him available near the end of your draft, there’s a real chance for him to finish as a QB1 this year.
11. Atlanta Falcons
The Super Bowl hangover was a strong one for Atlanta who went from record setters to barely watchable in the matter of a few months. Still, even this much of a drop feels like an overreaction as the Falcons still boast some of the most complete play makers in all of football. Expecting Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Devonta Freeman to repeat as middle of the pack performers would be a sure fire way to miss out on a discount for this years Atlanta studs.
Players Worth Drafting: Julio Jones (ADP 9), Devonta Freeman (ADP 21), Tevin Coleman (ADP 83), Matt Ryan (ADP 119), Calvin Ridley (ADP 132), Mohamed Sanu (ADP 152)
Obviously Jones is still being targetted early, but still overlooked is his usage in the end zone. Not much has to improve for him to go from a top 10 WR to a top 3, which I expect to be the case this year. Outside of Jones, the Falcons are universally underrated, especially veteran QB Matt Ryan. While I won’t predict a return to the 2016 numbers that saw him win a regular season MVP, I will be bold enough to predict a return to the top 10 in his position. A perfect “wait on a QB” candidate, he’ll help you build out a stabled of position players without costing you much in production.
Deep Sleeper: Mohamed Sanu may not be a sexy name, but he’s been an above average 2nd option in this Atlanta offense for years, and the arrival of Calvin Ridley shouldn’t completely torpedo his usage. If anything, there’s more evidence that rookie receivers aren’t fantasy studs right away, so don’t expect Sanu to fade into the background. He’s a 16-18 round option who could put up WR30 numbers if Atlanta returns to it’s high flying ways.
10. Detroit Lions
It helps that Detroit loves to the throw the football, and I don’t see the addition of Kerryon Johnson or LeGarrette Blount changing that. I expect another 600 attempt season out of Stafford, as well as positive performances out of Tate and Jones, both of whom should hit the 1,000 yard mark this year. The rushing game exists to compliment this potent passing attack, so expect experimentation early on as the coaching staff tries to meld the deep stable of backs into a cohesive unit, so don’t expect too much too soon.
Players Worth Drafting: Golden Tate (ADP 49), Marvin Jones (ADP 62), Kerryon Johnson (ADP 93), Matthew Stafford (ADP 107), LeGarrette Blount (ADP 148), Kenny Golladay (ADP 151), Theo Riddick (ADP 158)
In fact, the rushing game may be ugly all season long. LeGarrette Blount was brought in to be a goal line guy, so while TD’s may be a boon, there’s no telling what the rest of the group will siphon away. Theo Riddick is the safest of the group in PPR leagues, but Kerryon Johnson could be a guy who increases his workload slowly until he’s a fantasy star.
Deep Sleeper: Luke Willson was an under the radar signing for a team that’s been looking for it’s red zone, pass catching TE for years. His athletic ability profiles him as a top tier receiving threat, even if his limited exposure in Seattle would seem to show otherwise. With Kenny Golladay the popular late round pick in this offense, I expect to be able to add Willson off waivers or in the really late rounds in deep leagues, which is exactly the kind of value I look for from a guy with his pedigree.
Every Friday, until the season starts on Thursday, September 6th, we’ll run our NFC and AFC Player Profile article. You know what to expect from the guys at the top of your draft, now it’s time to learn what to look for in the later rounds.
When the 2017 started, many had high hopes for the Fantasy successes of Buffalo Bills QB Tyrod Taylor. After all, his ability to produce big on the ground in addition to an efficient, if unspectacular, aerial attack, had owners excited. Flash forward several disappointing months later, and the now Browns starting QB is getting far too little respect as the 2018 season dawns.
It’s always important to put a rushing QB’s exploits into context. In 2016 added 580 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground, pushing his fantasy totals towards the higher tiers. To quickly make sense of that, the rushing yards are the equivalent in points to an additional 1,000 yards, and rushing touchdowns extrapolate to 9 passing TDs. While still not in the “elite” tier, Taylor is the type of player who has sneaky value thanks to less than spectacular passing numbers.
In 2017, his statline looked as follows:
263 completions for 2,799 yards, 14 TDs to 11 INTs and another 427 yards and 4 TDs on the ground. All were career lows (excluding seasons in which he didn’t start). As such, he finished in standard QB leagues in the 16th spot, just missing out on the QB1 tag.
A Look Ahead
While you may not want to admit it, the fallout from last years down season has pushed Taylor into an undeserving spot. Currently being ranked in the mid 20’s at the position, his ADP is far too low for the type of talent he brings to the Cleveland Browns.
With a roster oozing with talent, and a head coach that’s committed to Taylor this year despite selecting Baker Mayfield first overall, I expect a career year for the rushing quarter back. Taylor has always had the arm, but he’s upgrading from Zay Jones and the hobbled Kelvin Benjamin to Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry. He’s got a young stud in David Njoku and pass catching specialist Duke Johnson to help move the chains.
Not to mention the skill in the backfield on first and second down with a two headed monster featuring RB1 talent in both Carlos Hyde and rookie Nick Chubb. Instead of suiting up for a team that can’t seem to move the football in Buffalo, Taylor should have a ton of opportunity for points.
When Taylor was traded to the Browns, he entered the polarizing world of Cleveland football. He may not be in line for double digit wins, but his stat line should support a fantasy team. With no risk to draft him, Taylor offers massive upside, one that I plan to exploit.
Barring any major injuries, Taylor can expect at least the 3,000 yards through the air he enjoyed in Buffalo in 15′ and 16′ but I personally believe we’ll see 3,400 yards, 22 TDs and plenty of work on the ground. As my number 18 QB, I’m higher on Taylor than most, and even I might be missing the boat. If you feel the need to wait on a QB, Taylor is the type of player who can offer top end value at the kind of price I love to pay for players.
Draft with confidence.
While the season still sits firmly on the horizon, fantasy nerds like myself help prop up the early season ADP data by grinding mock drafts despite having very little information to work with. While I’ll still examine each position with the “hidden gem” feature articles later in the summer, we’re going to provide sleeper updates on a monthly basis until the season begins.
Ryan Tannehill, MIA: Don’t confuse his inclusion on this list as a suggestion that the Dolphins are a team on the rise; because they’re not. What he is, though, is a potential top 15 fantasy quarterback available in the last few rounds of your draft. Ignoring last season, Tannehill has finished 13th (2013), 7th (2014), and 15th (2015), and turned in a dud in 2016 as the QB25 (he did miss 3 games). Those aren’t world beater numbers, but considering the relatively easy schedule he’ll face, and his ability to generate surprising yards on the ground (he averages around 200 yards per season) his floor is well above what we may expect from a player being drafted currently in the 21st round of deep drafts. As a bench player, he costs very little draft capital, but provides more upside than the other QB’s being drafted in a similar spot.
Matt Ryan, ATL: A massive drop off from his QB2 finish in 2016, Ryan’s 2017 has scared off potential suitors and saw him drop to the QB16 spot per current consensus ADP data. No longer playing with the pressures of the QB who blew the biggest super bowl lead, Ryan is poised to bounce back. Atlanta returns it’s superstar backfield, still has Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, and added Calvin Ridley at the draft, marking a very clear focus on surrounding Matty Ice with weapons. A return to the high flying offensive numbers of 2016 may be a stretch, but I’d find it hard to believe if Ryan turns in another dud this year. I fully expect a top 10 QB finish, and one that can be added in the 11th round of your draft.
Ty Montgomery, GB: I know I was derisive of Montgomery last year, but in spite of that, his current ranking (RB59, ADP – 100) is criminally low for a back that many viewed as a top 20 back last year before injuries derailed his season. While he remains an injury risk, a health Montgomery should resume his lead back role in 2018, especially in the passing game. It doesn’t hurt that he’ll be catching passes from the best QB in the game right now. If you need to add depth at the RB position, or punted on early round backs, Montgomery may help bail out a roster.
Marlon Mack, IND: While Mack was a trendy sleeper pick last year behind the aging Frank Gore, his performance over the season left a lot to be desired. In 16 games Mack garnered double digit touches only twice (in week 1 and week 8) otherwise he was an after thought in a terrible Colts offense. Now, he’s in line to be the lead back with Gore leaving for Miami, and the news that he’s fully recovered from surgery to repair a torn labrum he played the season with further cements his “sleeper” status in my mind. Even if Andrew Luck remains on the shelf, in the 8th round of drafts (ADP of 77th overall), Mack provides a solid floor while presenting plenty of upside.
Devante Parker, MIA: Last year, Parker was drafted with the expectation that he’d take a leap into the positions top 20; instead he was saddled with horrendous quarterback play and inconsistent targets following the season ending ACL injury suffered by Ryan Tannehill. While Tannehill doesn’t present much of an upgrade over Jay Cutler and co in terms of real football, he does have a great rapport with Parker. Coupled with a relatively easy schedule, an Parker is a steal at 104 overall.
Cole Beasley, DAL: Another tumultuous offseason for the Cowboys saw franchise corner stone Dez Bryant leave via free agency and Jason Witten retired. Despite the addition of Allen Hurns, the player who stands to gain the most from the absence should be Cole Beasley. After leading the team in targets in 2016, Beasley felt the effects of the Elliott suspension hard as the season saw him finish with only 36 catches on 63 targets. Let’s not forget, though, that the diminutive slot man led the team in targets in 2016 and saw a healthy 75 targets the year before. Expecting 80+ targets shouldn’t be too difficult a prediction considering that Dak Prescott has to throw to somebody and Beasely represents the best option for slot work on a run first team. Basically an afterthought in drafts so far, Beasley can be had for the low low price of nothing.
David Njoku, Cle: Coming out of college Njoku seemed like a lock to contribute right out of the gates, but as we so often find out, rookies are a crap shoot in fantasy. Now, the word is that targets are going to be scarce for the talented tight end, thanks to three very good receivers and two capable pass catching backs on the roster. I’d argue that with Tyrod Taylor’s propensity to scramble with the football, Njoku could be a nice target for owners looking to add TE depth late in drafts. While he likely won’t finish in the top 15 at the position, he’ll probably see a healthy number of targets in the red zone, giving him value regardless.
Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Jac: One of these days my Sefarian-Jenkins take is going to pay off in spades, and this year looks like it’s the year. Uber talented, Sefarian-Jenkins toiled away on a Jets team that couldn’t get consistency on offense no matter how hard it tried. It was recently revealed that ASJ suffered from substance abuse issues that he’s since sought help for and claims that he’s sober and focused on football for the first time as a pro. Color me intrigued as an involved Sefarian-Jenkins could be a monster in fantasy, especially given the lack of top tier weapons in Jacksonville following Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns departures. A late round target, he’ll cost you next to nothing to acquire but could be a massive piece of a championship run.
Eli Manning, QB – NYG: Currently ranked 186th by Fantasy Pro’s consensus rankings, Eli Manning appears to be little more than an afterthought going into his 14th professional season. Part of the problem for fantasy owners is that, at 37, his performance last year is as easily attributed to his age, as it is to the circumstances surrounding the Giants roster upheaval. I’d say they’re wrong.
This offseason, the Giants have tried adding help to both the backfield and the offensive line, two maligned personnel groups that managed to cost Manning valuable time in the pocket. With a stronger run game, a healthy wide receiver corps, and a cleaner jersey thanks to a capable left tackle, Manning should have a much more favorable fantasy season. Do I expect him to finish in the top 5? Hell no, he is 37 after all, but 4,000 yards and 28 TD’s is a reasonable expectation, and one that will give you excellent value in the 19th round of your draft.
Derek Carr, QB – OAK: With all of the noise surrounding the Oakland Raiders and it’s young stud quarterback going into last season, it’s no surprise that the team seemed to shrink from the pressure. Carr turned in some duds early on and suffered a broken vertibrae midway through the season, Amari Cooper showed up for a handful of games at best, and the run game was a mess when Marshawn Lynch got dinged up. This year, expectations should be more in line with what this team is capable of; a wildcard playoff run and maybe a round or two in the playoffs.
With a shiny new weapon in Jordy Nelson, and a likely bounce back candidate himself in Amari Cooper, Carr should turn in a season much closer to what we saw from him in 2016. If he competes hard and reaches his ceiling, he’s a top 10 fantasy QB without a doubt.
Matt Ryan, QB – ATL: The Super Bowl hangover strikes again, as 2016’s break out star and MVP Matt Ryan turned in a stinker after being drafted far earlier than necessary in drafts last year. Ryan finished 15th amongst quarterbacks last year, which was shockingly worse than Blake Bortles, Jared Goff, and Case Keenum.
Still, the Atlanta offense remains one of the most high powered in the league, and Ryan still owns the keys to the car. With Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu being one of the rangier WR duo’s in the league, and two pass catching backs in Coleman and Freeman still on the roster, it’d be a surprise to me if he didn’t bounce back in a big way. His floor is around the QB12 mark, but with his ranking sitting around the 12th round, I’m all in on Matty Ice.
Honorable Mentions: A revamped offense in Cleveland means Tyrod Taylor has the best receiver corps he’s ever had the privilage of throwing to. In the 18th round (ranked 175) he’s a steal. Likewise, Jameis Winston managed to play himself out of the position’s top 10 rankings thanks to a down year. Expect the Winston to Evans magic to resume early as he finishes in the top 10 again.
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.
For years it seemed that the elite fantasy running back was going the way of the dodo thanks to backfield committees and an increased reliance on the passing game. That seems to be shifting back slightly with NFL teams hitting on several early round running backs in recent seasons, and using their top guys in the passing game an increasing amount. Still, the offseason presents a handful of roster shakeups that need to be reviewed to understand their impact.
San Fransico 49ers Sign Jerrck McKinnon
The noise from the Jimmy G show drowned out the success that San Fransisco had with their backfield last year, and it’s likely to be the case again this year. With Jerick McKinnon taking over for the departed Carlos Hyde, the question is how much of a workload can we expect the new starter?
Last year he showed flashes of being a well rounded back, capable of running on first down, but in a Kyle Shanahan offense, it could be his pass catching ability that seperates him from the field. While it’s unlikely he challenge for a spot in the top 5, it’s well within reason to expect a top 10 finish with some monster weeks sprinkled in.
Cleveland Browns Sign Carlos Hyde
This signing is a little harder to guage, as Hyde leaves San Fransisco as a workhorse and arrives in a backfield with an established pass catcher in Duke Johnson. You may be surprised to know that Duke Johnson finished 4th in both targets and receptions by a back, so to expect Hyde to step in and syphon large amounts of passing down targets may be a bit of a reach.
It’s more likely that he’ll see early down work and a major roll back on targets, with usage mirroring more closely what Isaiah Crowell experienced. Will he do more with the touches than the mercurial Crowell did? That remains to be seen, but it’s likely that he’ll be drafted off the strength of his 2017 numbers rather than the expectation that he’ll fall out of the top 10 and finish with a good 50 fewer points in 2018.
Tennesse Titans Sign Dion Lewis
I’d forgive you if you thought this signing wasn’t nearly as important as others I could have cited here, but you’d be wrong. This is a match made in heaven as Lewis is one of the NFL’s premier 3rd down backs, and he’s being paired with a two down bruiser that should keep him fresh and on the field.
A high efficiency pass catcher, Lewis has hauled in 80% of targets sent his way in his career, and while New England’s backfield has never been a sure thing, Tennessee is likely to use him in a more consistent and predictable manner. His floor looks something like 45 catches for 400 yards and 4 touch downs, and whatever else he gets on the ground (it won’t be much) but the potential is there in an evolving offense for a 75 target year. Don’t target him in the early rounds, but if you can snag him in the mid to late rounds, he could be a valuable PPR asset.
New England Patriots Sign Jeremy Hill
Sure, we’ve heard this story before, as recently as last season when the Patriots threw a bunch of money into the backfield in the form of Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee. Burkhead turned into a fine Patriot, and is likely to split third downs with James White, but no one seemed to capture that early down roll that was left when LeGarrette Blount went to Philly.
In comes a former early round fantasy stud, Jeremy Hill. After averaging 5 yards per carry as a 22 year old rookie, his contributions seemed to wane more each year, culminating in a 2017 that saw him as the third option in the backfield for a team that seemed to miss use it’s backs all year long. Still only 25 years old, Hill has the chance to take over lead back duties in a Patriots backfield that doesn’t feature any other game breakers. Sure, he could just as likely find himself cut before the season starts, but I’d bet he catches on in New England.
Oakland Raiders Sign Doug Martin
Okay, so what if I seem to think the Muscle Hampster is going to have a bounce back year every year. The truth is he’s still an incredibly gifted runner between the tackles, and he’s leaving Tampa Bay where success has been difficult to come by with any consistency from any of that teams star players.
Instead, he finds himself in a backfield competing for early down touches against two uninspiring backs. While Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington both had their moments, neither one has the pedigree that Martin has. He’s shown the ability to bounce back before, and I expect a solid season out of him this year.
Honorable Mentions: Last year I was all in on the Jets as a sneaky source of fantasy contributions.This year, I’ve tempered my expectations, but the signings of Thomas Rawls and Isaiah Crowell mean there will be an open competition for the first two downs. Also in New York, the Giants have added Jonathan Stewart to it’s backfield, likely in an attempt to gain some kind if spark. It’s crowded with Gallman, Perkins, and Darkwa in the wings, but when Stewart is healthy, he’s a fantastic early back.