As we know intimately here at the Dr’s Office, hitting on a depth player is one of the best feelings in fantasy. Whether it was a middle round pick who supplanted a starter, or a late round flier who steps up due to injury, there’s a handful of these occurrences seemingly every week. When it happens before the season starts… that’s when it can be confusing.
Jaguars list Keelan Cole and Donte Moncrief as their starters
For a time it seemed as though 2017 fourth round pick Dede Westbrook was carving out a nice little role for himself, but when the preseason games rolled around he didn’t do enough to claim one of the starting roles. With Marquise Lee down for the season, it seems as though last years playoff hero Keelan Cole (ADP 130) will be asked to slot in opposite former Colts third round pick Donte Moncrief (ADP 200). Both options are fantastic value considering where they are going, but Cole may be one of the drafts best sleeper picks at this point. With the proven rapport with Bortles and recent fantasy results, the 14th round is still too late.
DeVante Parker may not be ready for the season opener
This one is an ongoing situation that bears observation, but the talented youngster still has to prove that he’s more than just combine measurables. A quick look at his Player Profiler page shows the story of a player who hasn’t figured out how to play the position against NFL caliber defenses. His target shares are average between the 20s but he struggles to gain separation (98th among qualified WRs) and doesn’t factor into red zone plays enough to be a difference maker. With the lingering finger issue, Parker could be ready for week 1 and I’d be fading him hard. With Amendola and/or Albert Wilson inhabiting the slot and chewing up a good portion of Landry’s vacated targets, and Kenny Stills presence in the red zone, Parker is going to have a tough time overcoming these deficiencies. .
New England Backfield is still a mess
While the colors may look different, this Patriots Backfield is the same difficult to analyze painting of an NFL backfield every season. Between additions (Jeremy Hill, Sony Michel) and departures (Mike Gillislee, Brandon Bolden), there seems to be a never ending carousel of backs in the drivers seat. According to the Patriots depth chart, both James White and Rex Burkhead are listed as starters, further muddying the waters if you were trying to cash in on New England’s odd but excellent running back usage. In PPR leagues, James White’s value at an ADP of around 120 is excellent value.
With Edelman missing 4 games due to suspension and a litany of wide receiver issues, injuries, and departures, White should factor in heavily early on. Still, it’s Burkhead who figures to make the most of his increased usage as he’ll dominate red zone touches and should see a healthy amount of work on the ground. Both are great values despite the concerns over who will see the most touches.
Carlos Hyde listed as Cleveland Browns starting RB
Much like Frank Gore before him, former 49ers running back Carlos Hyde continues to get disrespected in the fantasy world, as his ADP of 75 is outrageous considering how well he’s played to this point in his career. Many would point to the crowded backfield and presence of Duke Johnson as reasons why he can’t repeat as a top 20 back, but I’d tell you they are wrong. The Browns are a much improved offensive unit and Hyde looked fantastic in his limited action in the preseason. With Chubb figuring as the future of the franchise, there’s no reason for Cleveland to not pound the rock with Hyde. I don’t anticipate him pushing into the top 10, but he’s one of the easiest targets in the 8th round to justify.
Derrick Henry listed atop the RB depth chart in Tennessee
While all the attention was paid to the off season signing of former Patriot Dion Lewis, Henry quietly went about his job, continuing to work towards a larger work load in 2018. While we don’t expect him to handle much of the passing downs, the truth is that he’s the better runner of the two, despite what the experts would have you think. Dion Lewis’ season last year was a bit of an aberration, and continued health concerns and the lack of a track record for high touch totals means Henry should be involved from week 1.
LeGarrette Blount to start over Kerryon Johnson in Week 1
We take this one with a grain of salt, but it’s hardly surprising to see the recently acquired veteran starting at the pole over the exciting rookie. Johnson looked like the most talented back on the roster all preseason, so we don’t think it will be long before he’s seeing meaningful touches, but Blount should be the primary goal line back. If Johnson can vulture some touches inside the 20s or some of the passing downs, he figures to be a much better option long term than any other back on the Lions roster.
It was a busy weekend with NFL action featuring several story lines that may or may not make your life easy as you prepare for your drafts. As we continue to inch towards D-day, we’ll continue to review the position battles and injury updates to help you navigate the potential pitfalls.
Tampa Bay vs Tennesee Titans
Suspended Jameis Winston showed why he’s still the best quarterback on the roster with his 13 for 18 performance, putting up a stout 226 yards and 2 TDs. DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans both saw down the field targets as their 4 combined cathes went for over 100 yards.
On a more concerning note, rookie running back Ronald Jones continues to lose ground to incumbent starter Peyton Barber as he managed only 2 yards on 4 carries. It’s been a bit of a slow start to his NFL career as he continues to make headlines for a lack of pass protection and efficiency. Peyton Barber is seeming like a more consistent weapon in the backfield. At their current ADP, you should be targeting Barber in redraft leagues.
On the other side of the football, Mariota wasn’t asked to do as much, but his 80 yards on 4 completions wasn’t too shabby.
In the absence of Corey Davis and Rishard Matthews, it was Taywan Taylor that garnered all the attention as he took his 4 receptions for 95 yards and a TD. If Matthews is forced to miss time, Taylor could be a nice deep sleeper target, or waiver wire add if you drafted early.
Unfortunately, not much headway was made in the running game as both Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry were ineffectual again with neither one doing much on the ground. While it’s mostly a blip on the radar, it’s a backfield I have highlighted as one to avoid. Aside from Lewis in PPR leagues, this backfield is one that I’m not keen to take a chance on at their current ADPs.
Our second installment in the Either Or series take a look at the 7th round of the draft. If that number sounds arbitrary, it’s because it is. As usual, we’ll be using a 12 team PPR league, and our random draft position is 11th.
6 Player Roster (So Far)
- Leonard Fournette
- Alex Collins
- Derrius Guice
- Julio Jones
- Corey Davis
- Pierre Garcon
At this point in the draft, I’m feeling pretty comfortable with my team, although there’s a bit of a gap from my top back and receiver and the guys below them. In
a 12 team league I suggest waiting on a QB as the player pool is significantly shallower at running back and wide receiver, so in the 7th round, you’re decision should be which position to bolster before moving on to the QB and TE positions.
Top Players Available
As always, adjust your rankings to suit your preferences. The players below are targets that I’d be interested in that should be going in this range of the draft.
- Dion Leis
- Marlon Mack
- Rex Burkhead
- Cooper Kupp
- Robby Anderson
- Jamison Crowder
- Davante Parker
What you’ll notice is that all of these players have significant question marks but expect to factor in heavily to their respective offenses no matter their position on the depth chart. A quick glance at our roster and my personal belief is that we’re far stronger at the wide receiver position with proven commodities in Julio Jones and Pierre Garcon, and a young top 5 draft pick that should take over the top receiver duties in Tennessee.
I love Fournette, as he’ll have the kind of volume that should make him an easy top five running back, but Collins and Guice both have committee questions that can’t be answered until the season starts.
While I like both players, Collins has to fend off Kenneth Dixon (who Baltimore refused to cut bait with despite his off field issues AND Collins success) and Guice is a rookie who’s talent is undeniable but has a floor that could see him sitting on my bench before long.
For this scenario it comes down to the running back position, and I’ve narrowed it down to two: C.J. Anderson and Marlon Mack. It’s important to note that I like Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead, but their roles are more difficult to define so I’ll ignore them at this point in the draft.
The Case for Anderson
Replacing Jonathan Stewart as the primary “early” down back, Anderson expects to play a solid number of snaps this year despite 2nd year pro Christian McCaffrey’s presence on the roster. As a team, the Panthers ran the ball nearly 500 times, and 198 of them went to the 30 year old Jonathan Stewart over his 15 games (only 10 starts). Expecting a similar share for Anderson sits him firmly in the 200-220 touch mark (12-15 per game). Now, it’s important to note as well that Anderson has never rushed for less than 4 yards per carry, and should improve on the numbers Stewart posted last year. My (conservative) prediction is 900 yards and 6 TDs on the ground.
The Case for Mack
Unlike Lewis and Burkhead, Marlon Mack sits atop his team depth chart as the number one back, and only has to beat out rookies Nyheim Hines (a gadget back) and Jordan Wilkins (a 5th round pick who grades out as a special teamer). While you may feel Mack was underwhelming last year in his limited touches, but it was revealed he played through a torn labrum for much of the season and is expected to be 100% for the start of training camp. Equally important to note is that Mack was effective in the passing game, hauling in 63% of his targets for 21 receptions and 220 yards. Even with a healthy Luck, the Colts have a history of giving their starting back between 250-275 rushes, something that can’t be overlooked here. Providing another conservative projection, I can see 1,200 combined yards and 7-9 TDs for Mack.
Summary – Marlon Mack
While I’m tempted to take Anderson based on his track record of performing well in similar committees, Mack’s inside track at 15-20 touches a game is too good too pass up. While other backs in this area are firmly entrenched in committees, Mack should be an NFL starting back right out of the gates.
Do you disagree? Share in the comments below!
While you may see the word “beginner” in the title and deem this beneath you, but the truth is that we should always be learning; honing our skills and getting better at the game. The PPR format has exploded in years past, and like any non-standard scoring format, it presents fantasy drafters an extra wrinkle in their quest for greatness.
Of course, it’s important to understand the fundamentals. If you’re a point per reception veteran, skip this section; we’ll see you down below when we highlight some PPR strategies for the 2018 season. For those of you who aren’t familiar, buckle up and we’ll take you on a crash course.
PPR leagues differ from standard leagues in one very easy to understand facet; they award points to any player who records a reception. Whether it’s one full point, or a half a point, a player who has a higher volume of receptions becomes far more valuable than his standard league counter parts.
The first thing one should do is adjust your rankings. If you’re using a fantasy football magazine, or printing them off the internet, make sure you’re using PPR rankings. We always suggest doing the research and ranking your own players, but if you neither have the time nor the desire, ensure you’re not using rankings that don’t address your format.
A great example would be Duke Johnson as he’s primarily an after thought in standard, non-PPR leagues; and for a good reason. His highest single season rushing attempts total was 104 in his rookie year. Last year his 83 carries was good for 55th in the NFL, which we shouldn’t have to tell you isn’t enough volume to warrant much excitement.
In PPR leagues however, his 74 receptions was the 26th highest total in the NFL, and 4th highest among running backs. When you consider that he finished as the 11th highest scoring running back despite his average draft position of 97th overall in PPR leagues last year (data courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator.com) then it’s painfully clear that recognizing these pass catching backs can be fantasy gold in the right format.
Of course, that’s not to discount how it affects the wide receiver position either. Most of the elite players (regardless of position) are elite in either format. Volume and opportunity trump much of what you can dredge up in an argument, but in those middle rounds there’s plenty of players who have higher floors thanks to a larger share of targets.
Last year, Jarvis Landry was being ranking as the WR27 and was selected with the 78th pick on average. The value there was undeniable, especially considering that his 260 PPR points finished for 5th most at the WR position and 12th overall among skill position players. While his situation may require re-evaluation of his opportunity, the example rings true nonetheless. These players, who many discount because they build their rankings based off of the wrong data, are the targets that will help you win your league.
Players to Target
As always, we’ll use the ADP data compiled over at Fantasy Football Calculator to make our analysis. Finding these PPR gems isn’t as easy as it seems, though. Simply targeting player A because he led the position in receptions last year doesn’t ensure success this year. There is far more subtly when highlighting players to target in the middle and late rounds.
In the early rounds, you’ll ignore PPR vs. Standard debates; Jordan Howard and Melvin Gordon are still elite fantasy commodities even if they don’t catch the ball a ton. It’s in the middle rounds we can start the shopping list.
- Kareem Hunt (ADP 11): Unlike the Gordon/Howard example, Hunt has legitimate regression concerns after a monster rookie season. With Spencer Ware returning and pass catching specialist Charcandarick West still on the roster, there’s going to be fewer opportunities for the game breaker. While he’ll still be valuable, I don’t expect him to factor into the passing game as much this season, damaging his ability to be the top 10 player he’s being projected as.
- Derrick Henry (ADP 36): While Henry has never been the most adept pass catcher, the signing of Dion Lewis pretty much relegates him to a 1st and 2nd down role. Without the benefit of the passing game, Henry’s 200 carries won’t do much to support a RB2 finish, and with his talent, drafters are still betting that he’ll break out. While Lewis certainly is an injury risk, he’s also good enough between the tackles to keep Henry from being elite.
- Jay Ajayi (ADP 45): I really like Ajayi’s talent, but I don’t like his situation in Philly. With Darren Sproles returning, and Corey Clement still on the roster, the idea that he’ll continue to the be the bell cow is a bit misleading. He will likely lead the team in rushes, but his involvement in the passing game will be minimal barring any major injuries.
- Kenyan Drake (ADP 47): There is a lot of buzz after Drake finished 2017 strong, but Frank Gore should eat into his carries, and rookie Kalen Ballage is a far superior pass catching back who should eat targets up early an often. While he’s a safe bet for him to finish at the top of the committee for rushes, like Ajayi, he’ll figure into the scoring far less than his ADP provides for.
- Duke Johnson (ADP 97): Mentioned above, Johnson still figures to make an impact in the passing game, but with Carlos Hyde also a capable pass catcher (88 targets last year were only 5 fewer than Johnson), there’s reason to be concerned that the volume could dip. His ADP is beginning to represent this, but don’t swing early on Johnson and expect 70+ catches again.
- Dion Lewis (ADP 61): I’m not predicting him to completely overtake Henry in the rushing game, but his floor his immensely high. In the 7th round, he’s the kind of back that can secure you 50 receptions and 1,000 total yards without impacting the incumbent start too much. His ceiling is far better than that, creating a wonderful target to return heavily on his investment.
- Chris Thompson (ADP 81): Not to discount the effect that Derrius Guice will have on the Washington Backfield, but Thompson was on pace for 1,200 total yards, 60+ receptions, and 9 TDs last year before missing the final 6 games due to a broken leg. Even given a reasonable amount of regression, he figures to be one of the most valuable 3rd down backs in fantasy.
- Ty Montgomery (ADP 111): He’s not going to impress anyone on the ground, but the converted wide receiver has the pass catching ability to provide plenty of value; especially in the 12th round. Prior to his injury, Montgomery was targeted heavily in the passing game, averaging nearly 8 targets and 6 receptions a game. Expect a return to the third down role for the sure handed Montgomery, and reap the rewards this late in the draft.
- James White (ADP 165): The forgotten man in New England, White continues to fly under the radar despite securing 90 targets and 56 receptions last year in an over crowded backfield. With Sony Michel still a rookie, and Dion Lewis leaving for greener pastures, Tom Brady’s safety blanket is in line for another big year in terms of PPR production. At 165, I’ll take the chance that the 26 year old continues to produce in the passing game for one of the best QB’s of all time.
- Kalen Ballage (ADP 213): I’ll continue beating my drum for Ballage who enters the season firmly behind Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore on the depth chart. But the speedy big man possesses the kind of silky smooth mitts that coaches game plan around, and while Drake was effective down the stretch in 2017, the moves made in the off season scream of available opportunity for the guys they brought in. If he carves out a portions of first and second downs, Ballage could be a monster for basically a waiver wire stab.
- Adam Thielen (ADP 29): With an upgrade at QB, you’d think Thielen is in line for the same kind of statline that saw him win leagues in 2017, but think again. History shows that Cousin’s is a bit of a gunslinger, and while Thielen will probably continue to be a contributor, he’s primed for regression yet being drafted as though he’s regression proof.
- Golden Tate (ADP 48): You may look at the bottom line and suggest that he’s a PPR gold mine; after all he’s recorded 90 receptions for 4 straight years. I’d implore you to dig a little deeper. Aside from the emergence of Marvin Jones, it’s important to note that Tate was wildly inconsistent last year. In 6 games last year, Tate failed to record more than 4 receptions, and in four of those games he had less than 6 PPR point. That amounts to nearly 40% of the season that Tate is a bust player.
- Brandin Cooks (ADP 53): Don’t get me wrong, Cooks is a nice little player. The issue is that with the Rams being a run first team, there’s about 10% or more opportunity lost in targets (550 pass attempts in LA to 600 in New England). Cooks is a deep threat that won’t command the kind of target share that other elite PPR receivers will. With Robert Woods returning as the slot man, Cooks is in line for major regression, especially in the PPR format.
- Jarvis Landry (ADP 59): This isn’t a knock on Landry the player, but expecting the kind of volume that he had in Miami is to ignore the fact that he’s not the most talented receiver on his current team. With Josh Gordon figuring to command the highest percentage of targets, Landry’s expectations should be limited, even if his ADP suggests otherwise.
- Julian Edelman (ADP 69): It pains me to include the New England slot receiver, but the reasons for his inclusion here are fairly straight forward. On top of missing 25% of the season due to suspension, he’s 32 years old and coming off a major knee injury that cost him the entirety of last season. With real competition for the slot position, it’ll be very difficult for Edelman to be more than a spot start, and at his current price, there’s a ton of other guys I’d rather have.
- Cooper Kupp (ADP 94): I was wrong about Kupp last year, and while I think Cooks and Woods eat up a lot of targets, it’s important to note that Kupp quietly led the Rams in targets last year with 94. With a floor around 60 catches and 800 yards (tack on around 5 TDs), and you’re looking at fantastic value in the 10th round.
- Marquise Goodwin (ADP 104): Goodwin looked great in the five games that Garoppolo started, averaging nearly 9 targets a game. With Jimmy G as the every day starter, I expect Goodwin to continue to elevate his game, and a WR2 ceiling (65 receptions, 1,000 yards, and 4 TDs) is well within reach.
- Kenny Stills (ADP 148): Many expect Danny Amendola to fill the role vacated by Jarvis Landry, but I find myself coming back to Stills as the perfect candidate to inherit those targets. Already one of the Dolphins most targeted receivers, his familiarity with the system and quarter back Ryan Tannehill are great catalysts for an increase in production. Perennially Stills has inhabited the 80-100 target mark, so bumping him to 130-150 feels right, and puts him firmly in the break out column on draft day.
- Keelan Cole (ADP 174): I don’t typically get excited about guys with as small a sample size as Cole has, but the 25 year old out of Louisville was impressive when called upon late in the season, and seems to continue to be overlooked with Marqise Lee and Donte Moncreif sitting above him in the depth chart. Neither of those players has done anything over their careers to keep Cole from taking their jobs, and with a solid rapport developing between he and Bortles, he’s a breakout candidate you can have for pennies on the dollar.
- Michael Gallup (ADP 212): I don’t expect Gallup to come out of the gate blazing, but with a mediocre group of receivers ahead of him, he’ll likely carve out a large share of the targets in Dallas. With much of the buzz surrounding him positive, I expect 100+ targets for the rookie, and a floor that most players in the 200’s don’t have.
Winning your league takes understanding the value’s at each of the tiers. Everyone get’s to pick a few high end starters in those early rounds, but what you do here, in rounds 4-10 can mean the difference between playoff hopeful and championship contender. (PPR ADP Data supplied by Fantasypros.com)
- Doug Baldwin, WR – SEA
- T.Y. Hilton, WR – IND
- Zach Ertz, TE – PHI
- Derrick Henry, RB – TEN
- Stefon Diggs, WR – MIN
- Amari Cooper, WR – OAK
- Kenyan Drake, RB – MIA
- Josh Gordon, WR – CLE
- Jay Ajayi, RB – PHI
- Alex Collins, RB – BAL
Player I Love: I’m aiming to get a piece of that Minnesota offense, and Diggs is the player I’m targeting. With Cousin’s big arm, Diggs could have a monster year.
Player I Hate: Kenyan Drake had a nice little finish to 2017, and it looked for a moment like he may be a breakout candidate for 2018. Then Miami added Frank Gore and Kalen Ballage to the stable. Neither guy projects as a 3 down workhorse, but in the fourth round, they inhibit Drake from being a true stud.
- Rashad Penny, RB – SEA
- Allen Robinson, WR – CHI
- Larry Fitzgerald, WR – ARI
- Deshaun Watson, QB – HOU
- Juju Smith-Schuster, WR – PIT
- Derrius Guice, RB – WAS
- Demaryius Thomas, WR – DEN
- Mark Ingram, RB – NO
- Brandin Cooks, WR – LAR
- Russell Wilson, QB – SEA
Player I Love: The fifth round features two rookie RB’s that I love as Penny and Guice figure to act as feature backs for two teams that will likely run the ball a lot. Both have the talent and the opportunity to be top 15 backs.
Player I Hate: Mark Ingram has been polarizing among fantasy owners in his brief time in the NFL thanks to injury concerns and lack of work, but with Kamara emerging and the four game suspension keeping him out for 25% of the fantasy season, there’s no chance I take Ingram this early in drafts.
- Jarvis Landry, WR – CLE
- Alshon Jeffrey, WR – PHI
- Golden Tate, WR – DET
- Lamar Miller, RB – HOU
- Jimmy Graham, TE – GB
- Tom Brady, QB – NE
- Sony Michel, RB – NE
- Evan Engram, TE – NYG
- Greg Olsen, TE – CAR
- Ronald Jones, RB – TB
Player I love: I’ve heard a lot of talk about Jimmy Graham as a potential bust, and I imagine it has to do with Green Bay’s history of not really using it’s tight ends. I’d argue it’s because Rodgers never had a weapon like Graham. I expect him and Adams to both put together top 5 seasons at their positions.
Player I Hate: Maybe it’s because I’m still bitter about the super bowl, but Tom Brady is 40 years old and has never had an off season like this one. On the field, he’ll likely win 12 games, but for your fantasy team he may hold you back as inconsistency should plague the Patriots this year.
- Carson Wentz, QB – PHI
- Marvin Jones, WR – DET
- Cam Newton, QB – CAR
- Dion Lewis, RB – TEN
- Drew Brees, QB – NO
- Delanie Walker, TE – TEN
- Kyle Rudolph, TE – MIN
- Tevin Coleman, RB – ATL
- Kirk Cousins, QB – MIN
- Michael Crabtree, WR – BAL
Player I love: Marvin Jones Jr is being ranked currently as the WR25 after finishing 11th at the position last year. Matt Stafford still likes to sling the ball, and Jones has proven that he’s the most reliable down the field target in the offense. 1,000 yards and 8 TDs is a safe floor.
Player I Hate: Dion Lewis is a fantastic satellite back, but for some reason he’s being drafted based on his 2017 season in which the then-Patriot finished as a RB1. Now, he’s playing second fiddle to a superior back in Derrick Henry, and yet folks expect him to put up 1,000 + combined yards again. Don’t bet on it.
- Corey Davis, WR – TEN
- Will Fuller, WR – HOU
- Sammy Watkins, WR – KC
- Devin Funchess, WR – CAR
- Marshawn Lynch, RB – OAK
- Carlos Hyde, RB – CLE
- Chris Hogan, WR – NE
- Julien Edelman, WR – NE
- Marlon Mack, RB – IND
- Robert Woods, WR – LAR
Player I Love: I have to give a whole lot of love to the two wide outs at the top of the round as Corey Davis and Will Fuller both have the potential to be top 20 WR’s. With Davis entering the year finally healthy and Fuller being reunited with Watson (whom he scored a ton of points with), neither guy is getting the respect they deserve.
Player I Hate: Marshawn Lynch may go down in history as one of the most entertaining backs of his generation, but the writing is on the wall for the aging back. With plenty of miles on his wheels, the Raiders brought in former Buc’s back Doug Martin to compete for the job. While both guys lack any excitement, Lynch’s time as a bell cow back is over.
- Jordan Reed, TE – WAS
- Tarik Cohen, RB – CHI
- Matthew Stafford, QB – DET
- Royce Freeman, RB – DEN
- Kerryon Johnson, RB – DET
- Emmanuel Sanders, WR – DEN
- Jimmy Garoppolo, QB – SF
- Pierre Garcon, WR – SF
- Isaiah Crowell, RB – NYJ
- Chris Thompson, RB – WAS
Player I Love: Pierre Garcon may not be a threat to break the top 10 at WR, but in PPR leagues especially, his ability to get open from the slot will mean a ton of targets for the veteran. His 67 targets through 8 games may be a bit on the high end, but 120 total targets are within reach.
Player I Hate: This one is a bit of a stretch as these middle round picks aren’t make or break, but Jordan Reed is still being drafted as a top 10 TE despite missing 14 games over the last two seasons. As an injury risk, drafting Reed is precarious at best, and should be avoided if at all possible.
- Cooper Kupp, WR – LAR
- Devante Parker, WR – MIA
- Andrew Luck, QB – IND
- Trey Burton, TE – CHI
- Jamison Crowder, WR – WAS
- Jordy Nelson, WR – OAK
- Marquise Goodwin, WR – SF
- Duke Johnson, RB – CLE
- Rex Burkhead, RB – NE
- Randall Cobb, WR – GB
Player I Love: Devante Parker has flashed before, but with the issues under center last year seriously disappointed fantasy owners who invested in him. I say ignore the feelings of discomfort and bet on his talent. With all the targets up for grabs, and Tannehill back under center, Parker could see 40-60 more targets this year.
Player I Hate: Jordy Nelson was once the cream of the NFL crop when it came to high end fantasy receivers. Now he’ll be a third option at best in an offense that struggled last year to find traction in it’s passing game. With Cooper and Bryant miles ahead of Nelson in terms of athletic ability and talent, it’ll be tough sledding for the 33 year old vet.
I’d like to preface this by saying that every player has some kind of value, but the real issue I take with the following players is the value other fantasy players have assigned to them. As always, take these with a grain of salt, as I’ll likely look at any of them if they fall into a round with appreciable value.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB – San Fransisco: It sure looked like Jimmy G was the real deal as he lead the listless 49ers to 5 straight wins to close out the season. And it certainly helped his stock that he beat three playoff teams in Jacksonville, Tennessee, and the LA Rams. But has he done enough in his brief time as a starter to warrant being drafted as the 9th QB off the board?
Instead of targeting a QB with 7 career starts and expecting a top 10 finish at the position, it’s a far safer proposition to look at the names directly behind him on the list. Matt Stafford, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, and Philip Rivers can all be had, and all offer far more consistent value in my opinion. Do I think Jimmy G is a bust candidate? No, not particularly, but with all the buzz surrounding the former heir to the Tom Brady empire, I’ll let someone else overpay for the unknown commodity.
Tom Brady, QB – New England: This may surprise some, especially being a Patriots fan living in Massachusetts, but the news out of New England has been mostly terrifying, yet Brady is still being drafted as the QB4. Between a lack of off season work, his top target from last year being traded, and his former safety net in Julian Edelman facing a 4 game suspension after missing all of last year with a knee injury, and you have a recipe for disaster if you lob and early round pick at Brady.
Of course, he’ll probably prove me wrong, but there’s no way I’m drafting Brady before Brees, Wentz, or Newton – the next three QB’s on the list. If I can get Brady for a discount, I’m comfortable with his superior talent making up for these things, but in the 5th round I’m drafting skill players and snagging someone else several rounds later.
Dion Lewis, RB – Tennessee: Every year the final running back rankings reveal a few surprises, and Dion Lewis’ 203 points (RB13) was certainly the stand out name to me. But now a member of the Titans, Lewis’s name keeps popping up on watch lists as a name to watch, something I just can’t get behind.
While he’s undoubtedly an electric player when healthy, 2017 was the first time Lewis turned in 16 games in his career, and betting on anything more than 7 games is a crap shoot with the diminutive back. Also against him is his role in the Tennessee offense, as he slides in neatly on the depth chart as the 3rd down back behind elite runner Derrick Henry. Sadly, no team targeted their backs less than the Titans 66 total RB targets. The ceiling is so low in Tennessee with a healthy Henry on the roster that I’m staying away from Lewis at all costs.
Kenyon Drake, RB – Miami: On the surface, Drake seems like a logical name to take the “next step” into fantasy relevance, especially after he dominated the touches for the Dolphins down the stretch, turning 91 touches into 444 yards and 2 TDs from week 13 on. How did the Dolphin front office repay him? By bringing in Frank Gore via free agency and adding Kalen Ballage in the draft.
We’ve seen similar situations before, and I’d argue caution when investing in the Miami backfield. Much like the Spencer Ware/Kareem Hunt situation last year, there is likely very little room for error when it comes to touches for Drake. Of course, staying healthy should see him resume the roll of the top dog, but touches will be limited, and his prospects of turning in a top 20 RB season are slim in my estimation.
T.Y. Hilton, WR – IND: It’s easy to look at the bottom line and say “but Hilton was productive” while ignoring the deficiencies playing in Indianapolis’ offense creates. The news on Andrew Luck has been mostly positive, but it still doesn’t look like he’ll be returning any time soon, yet fantasy drafters haven’t seem to given up on Hilton as an elite WR.
A closer look reveals how inconsistent Hilton was with Jacoby Brissette throwing him the ball. More than half of his yards (966 on the season) came in only three games (505) which in this case can’t be offset by the threat of scoring, as his 4 TDs is about what you can expect for the smaller receiver. If he continues on the pace he’s at, he’s a flex start at best, which is something that you can’t afford out of a 4th round pick.
Tyreek Hill, WR – KC: This one may sound strange, as I was a big fan of Hill’s going into last season, even going out of my way to own him in several leagues, but every year we must re-evaluate each players value and leave the past love in past when ranking players. Hill is currently the 10th WR coming off the board, but presents many of the same problems highlighted above with T.Y. Hilton.
Similarly, his final stat line is a bit of a mirage as the 75 catches for 1,183 yards only represents half of the story. Aside from four big games (552 yards and 3 of his 7 TDs), Hill failed consistently to hit 5 catches or 100 yards. Add to the roster a WR the caliber of Sammy Watkins, and he’s now relying on the big play to score, further damaging his fantasy value. While I can see a similar 100 targets, the effects of additional receiving weapons, an elite run game, and a first year starter are too much to overcome when drafting a player as early as Hill needs to be drafted.
Evan Engram, TE – NYG: Another player I preached judiciously last year, Engram turned in one of the finest fantasy seasons for a rookie TE ever, and is being rewarded for it by being the 5th TE off the board in 2018. As a TE being drafted in the 6th round, you’d like to be relatively sure that his production will remain consistent, but that’s where the problem begins.
Last year, as we all know, was a perfect storm for Engram, as the receiving corps for the Giants was decimated all year, leaving Engram as the only reliable starter capable of catching the ball. Now, he’ll be fighting for targets with a healthy Odell Beckham and Sterling Shephard, and he’ll see far less usage in the red zone as the Giants drafted Saquon Barkley, the best RB prospect for Big Blue in years. Could he surprise, sure, but will be finish as the TE5? Not a chance.
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.
Every year we spend our fantasy prep time pouring through periodicals and compiling statistics based off of “expert” analysis. And while this information is invaluable, we often times ignore the most important players to a championship team: The Bench.
Finding these hidden gems can be difficult but rewarding when your first and second round picks start experiencing the injuries that come with playing as often as elite NFL players do. We’ll examine who from the bargain barrel section of the drafts can help you when they inevitably enter the fray.
Surest Thing – Mike Wallace: Despite the appearance of a crowded receiver team, Mike Wallace is my surest bet amongst the late round WR picks based on his ADP (around 179!) Simply put, he’s hiding behind an unproven journey man in Kamar Aiken and a 35 year old Steve Smith Sr. and whatever mess at TE they decide to roll out (Maxx is a competent NFL TE but he’s going to eat significant targets away from any of the players already mentioned, nor is Gillmore). If Aiken regresses and/or Smith Sr. misses time with injury, the speedy Wallace should find himself hooking up with the strong armed Flacco more and more often. For a late round pick, he offers the highest ceiling with the lowest floor.
Highest Risk Reward – Devin Funchess: Despite pedestrian numbers in 2015, Funchess showed that he could be a productive player in the NFL, and there are two sides to the coin surrounding the return of Carolina’s “main man” Kelvin Benjamin. The majority of fantasy players expect Benjamin to step back into his #1 role, and you’d be justified, but I expect there’s a decent chance that having extra time to work with Funchess will result in better numbers for a WR being drafted in the 12-14th round. Obviously with Cam Newton, there’s no
garuntee that skill player A performs the same week in and week out, as the play breaks down Cam’s on of the best in the game finding the open man. Still, the reward if he turns into Cam’s saftey blanket far outweighs the risks.
Big Ole’ Bust – Marvin Jones: Maybe it’s low hanging fruit, but Marvin Jones has the easiest road to ruin of any WR in the entire league. For starters, Matthew Stafford is is entering his 8th NFL season, and his attempts have dropped significantly as his mileage piles up. With Golden Tate proving he can carry the mantle, it’s highly unlikely Jones (who has no history in the NFL of carrying an offense) will step in and replace the departing Calvin Johnson. It’s more likely that Stafford adjusts his targets to Tate, Ebron, and Abdullah and Jones is left as the 4th or 5th player in touches.
Bonus – Chris Hogan: It’s easy to overlook the former Bill as he dons the enemies attire with New England this year. Why? Well, Gronkowski, Edeleman, Lewis, and Amendola to name a few. But the truth is that it’s highly unlikely the New England offense stays healthy, and each of the names just mentioned has a lengthy injury history. Hogan is a sure handed blue collar guy who is likely to slide right in and pick up where guys like Lafell fit (when he was productive). He’s being drafted in the final rounds of drafts, so feel free to take a flier on him.