With the offseason well underway, and the NFL draft looming in the distance, the time is now to evaluate the many moves that went down following the start of free agency. Over the next week, we’ll evaluate each position individually, and attempt to break down the impact of each move to this point.
Kirk Cousins Signs With Vikings:
With the ink drying on Kirk Cousins’ 84 million dollar contract, the fantasy community stirred in it’s offseason slumber. While too many unanswered questions rest between here and fantasy drafts, this represented the first major offseason domino in many to come. The question remains, though; what does this mean for fantasy owners?
A top 5 season is a general expectation, especially considering that Cousins finished 6th in standard ESPN leagues last year. Minnesota’s roster is litered with game breakers, and a more consistent run game should mean a more consistent threat to score for the Vikings new signal caller. With their sights set on the super bowl, the Vikings should be a great source of fantasy contributors, and Cousins should be a target for anyone.
Alex Smith Signs with Washington:
Replacing Cousins in Washington will be Alex Smith, the notorious game manager previously starting for the Kansas City Cheifs. His track record is far from inspiring, but surprisingly enough he managed to finish as the fourth highest scoring quarter back in standard ESPN leagues last year.
Much of that can be attributed to the lack of healthy QB’s, but Washington presents a unique challenge in terms of predicting success. No longer stocked with weapons like Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, Smith will instead be throwing to a stable of unproven youngsters and oft-injured tight ends. Whether or not he’s a target come draft day depends on what the community suggests his average draft position is. A low end QB1 is as good as I’ll give him at this point, but may not select him as anything but flier in the later rounds, assuming he falls that far.
Case Keenum Signs With Denver:
Continuing the trend of displaced QB’s, Minnesota’s surprising star Case Keenum moves on to Denver after a season that witnessed him outscore superstars like Matt Ryan, Derek Carr, and Jameis Winston. While it’s fair to question the validity of those numbers, as Keenum was viewed mostly as a backup to this point, there’s not a lot of drop off in terms of talent around him going to Denver.
Elite wideouts Demarius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders should help him continue to produce, and an elite defense should give him plenty of opportunity to score points. While I won’t say he’s ready for prime time, another top 15 finish isn’t out of the question.
Tyrod Taylor Traded To Cleveland Browns:
While it’s with a great deal of consternation that I even include a Browns QB in this article, the truth is that Taylor has been a very productive fantasy QB over the last few years, and should have plenty of opportunity in Cleveland with the weapons surrounding him. Elite wide outs Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry present a major upgrade to what he found himself working with in Buffalo, and two capable pass catchers out of the backfield in Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson mean Taylor’s ability to run will be on full display as teams will be forced to respect the weapons around him.
Does this mean I’ll be reaching in drafts to select a Browns QB? Absolutely not, but as a back end top 10 QB, Taylor may have the moxie to bring fantasy success to teams in the middle to late rounds thanks to what has become the curse of playing for Cleveland.
Sam Bradford Signs With Arizona Cardinals:
The biggest risk in the NFL in terms of fantasy quarterbacks has got to be the always injured Bradford. Every year it’s the same thing; superlative starts make way to lengthy DL stints and surgery. While my personal opinion is Bradford is no more than a last round flyer, the Arizona Cardinals present an opportunity for him to bounce back into fantasy owners good graces.
With enough weapons to be successful, and a run-first scheme that may help him stay healthy, Bradford should be on your radar in the preseason as a backup candidate. When healthy, he’s a top 15 QB, but I’d be willing to bet we’ll be seeing an Arizona backup by week 6.
Honorable Mention: Jimmy Garoppolo signed a massive deal to stay in San Fransisco, and the fantasy community is chomping at the bit to see what he can do with a full seasons worth of reps. Teddy Bridgewater, the least impactful of the Minnesota triumverate that departed in the offseason, finds himself in the Jets’ backfield as a potential starter. The talent is there, but questions surround his surgically repaired knee. Andrew Luck has resumed throwing, and while there’s plenty of concern that his career may never get back on track, the pedigree is there for the man to be a top 5 QB again. With less risk in late rounds, he’s a nice bounce back target that costs nothing if he never returns to form.
Jay Cutler signs in Miami: While the consensus is that this was bound to happen, I can’t help but feel that Matt Moore was a better option to run the offense in Tannehill’s absense. Either way, expect this offense to run like Gase has traditionally operated, and his wide receivers should maintain the value they had prior to the Tannehill injury. Cutler himself is a middle of the pack fantasy QB, but don’t be surprised if it takes a few games for him to shake off the rust.
Paxton Lynch struggles in Denver: Despite the only competition comes in the form of former 7th round pick (and incumbent starter) Trevor Seimian, Paxton Lynch continues to fall short of the expectations set forth when Denver spent a first round pick on him in 2016. While it’s far from over in terms of being labelled a bust, Lynch has shown very little spark in practices and will need a huge turnaround or a Seimian injury to win the starting job,
Quarterback Battle in Houston: There seems to be some contention surrounding the quarterback competition in Houston. There are reports that both Savage and Watson are playing far above their head in terms of the on-the-field stuff, but it’s being reported that Savage has the resect of his teammates while Watson is still getting acclimated to the NFL. Assuming Savage wins the starting gig, it’ll be a difficult road to keeping it with games against Jacksonville and New England presenting elite secondaries.
Tyreek Hill gains Chemistry with Smith: The opportunity will be there regardless for Hill in the absense left by Maclin’s depature, but his budding chemistry is good news for Hill fans. Experts are speculating a 70-80 catch season which would put Hill solidly in the WR2 camp with a potential to push top billing as the #1 in Kansas City.
After finishing in the top 10 among WRs in 2014 and top 20 in 2015, Emmanuel Sanders finds himself in the unenviable position of playing second fiddle to Demaryius Thomas in the newly minted Mark Sanchez show. In obvious fashion, his fantasy relevance has taken a bit of a hit. Using the FantasyPro’s consensus rankings, he finds himeself as the WR26 this year, a far cry from the high regard he’d previously attained.
But is it fair to say he’ll suffer that much under Sanchez?
Between 2010 and 2011 Mark Sanchez played QB for a defenisivly dominant New York Jets team, managing to win 19 games and play efficiently enough in a run first offense to make one AFC Championship game. His wideouts during that time?
2010 Leading Jets Receivers: Braylon Edwards (904 yards and 7 TDs) and Santonio Holmes (746 yards and 6TDs)
2011 Leading Jets Receivers: Santonio Holmes (654 yards and 8 TDs) and Plaxico Burress (612 yards and 8 TDs)
Now, I’d argue that not only are the tandem he’s throwing to in Denver are better than either of those teams, I’d argue (and don’t flay me for saying this) that he’s actually a bit of an upgrade over Peyton Manning at this point.
Sure, it’s likely that Sanders numbers will take a hit, but his big play ability coupled with the fact that he won’t have Noodle-arm Manning throwing him the ball, it’s reasonable to expect he can approach 1,000 yards and another 8 TDs which would result in a similar WR15-20 range.
Considering he’s dropped already, it’s not a stretch to expect him to drop further in fantasy drafts: don’t be afraid to draft him a little higher than he’s projected.
After the fantasy world collectively held it’s breath awaiting word on the extensions for Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant (both were recent hold outs), we can all breath a sigh of relief since both players signed 5 year $70 million dollar contract extensions.
However unlikely it was that either or both players were going to hold out for actual NFL games, we can now stop pondering how Terrance Williams would do in the absence of Bryant, and get back to drafting both of these guys in the first two rounds with confidence.
I recently read an article about Emmanuel Sanders and the concerns about his production with Gary Kubiak at the helm. While these questions often arrise in the off season, the biggest factor for Sander’s production has less to do with Kubiak and more to do with Peyton Manning.
They often refer to players of his ilk as “Field Generals”. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers… they call their own number more often than not, meaning it doesn’t matter if it’s Gary Kubiak, or Jack Del Rio, or John Madden coaching the team.
I’d like to argue going into your draft to expect recievers for the top 5 or so QB’s to generally repeat their numbers unless huge shakeups occur on offense. Feel confident that Emmanuel Sanders is going to see enough targets for 1100 yards and 5 TD’s, and that Brandon LaFell will continue to grow as a Patriot and find Brady looking his way just as often as last year. Don’t read too heavily into who is the head coach, because they aren’t the ones throwing the ball to them
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?