In the interest of avoiding plucking at low hanging fruit, we’ll ignore players who were duds due to injury, and instead focus on players who underperformed enough that you may have soured on owning them in your leagues.
Jay Ajayi, RB – Phi: Before the season, I cautioned anyone planning on using a first or second round pick on Ajayi to reconsider. His numbers were a mirage propped up on the back of three 200 yard games. Through 7 weeks my point was proven as the listless Dolphins managed to trot out a Jay Cutler led offense that struggled to move the football for long stretch. Ajayi managed a paltry 3.3 yards per game for the Dolphins, prompting the trade that would bring him a championship ring.
Following the trade, Ajayi started running harder. Was it simply a change of scenery or was it because the offense had talent around him? Whatever the case may be, Ajayi managed 408 yards on 70 attempts, good for a 5.8 yard per carry mark. Now, with LeGarrette Blount gone to Detroit, this backfield is his for the taking. While he won’t average 5.8 YPC with an expanded role, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t approach the 1,000 yard mark with 6-8 TD’s.
Samaje Perine, RB – WAS: Before the season, one of the trendiest sleeper picks was rookie RB Samaje Perine, only to see his stock drop precipitously following a disastrous pre-season. Rob Kelley did nothing to dispel the rumors of his impending take over, though, and midway through the season Perine was seeing regular touches. Unfortunately for owners, aside from a two week stretch that saw him amass 47 rushes and over 200 yards, he was uninspiring.
With Alex Smith now under center in Washington, I’d place my bets on this team moving to a more run heavy attack, and that will only benefit the 2nd year Perine. With no one but Rob Kelley in his way for the bulk of carries, there’s little doubt in my mind that he’ll be atop the depth chart when the season starts. Currently ranked 49th at his position by Matthew Berry’s early rankings, that is the kind of value I want out of my late round picks.
Bilal Powell, RB – NYJ: The Jets backfield experienced major upheaval as Matt Forte retired and Isaiah Crowell and Thomas Rawls were both brought in to fill the gap. What does this mean for Powell? I’d argue not much. The Jets were a dumpster fire last year, and the lack of talent on offense kept Powell from rewarding owners who expected massive PPR points from the capable pass catcher.
Despite the addition of these two other backs, Powell should return with a virtual lock on third down work, and with even a slight improvement of the talent around him, Powell should return to the 10+ points per week contributor many expected. While his value in standard (non PPR) leagues is much less grandiose, being ranked 36th at his position is a criminal undervalue.
Honorable Mentions: Jeremy Hill has a lot to prove if he wants to make the roster in New England, but at only 25 years old, and a few years removed from elite performances, he has a chance to return to glory as a Patriot. Likewise, LeGarrett Blount finds himself moving from one crowded backfield in Philly, to another in Detroit. The difference is that the Lions haven’t been able to find a healthy back to carry the load and they hope Blount is that guy. As always, he’ll lack in the catches stat, but should have plenty of opportunity in the red zone with very little competition for those carries on the roster.
By now you’ve heard that Ryan Tannehill had to leave Dolphins practice on Thursday, and the news out of Miami is that potential season-ending surgery is on the table. Maybe you weren’t planning on drafting Tannehill anyhow, but his absense certainly will affect fantasy targets around him.
Matt Moore – QB: The most obvious first-domino would be who steps in under center. Despite rumblings that Jay Cutler may be interested in the gig due to his ties to Adam Gase and his offense, my money is on Matt Moore. Moore performed admirably against all three AFC east teams last year posting 240 yards per game with 8 TDs against 3 INT’s in his three starts. If Moore does start, a reasonable expectation would be around 3,500 yards and 20-22 TDs but the turnovers could rise a bit. He’s a late round flyer at best.
Jay Ajayi – RB: Stacked boxes could mean a change of fortunes for a back many considered to be a top 10 talent. If last seasons disparity between his three 200 yard efforts and the rest of the season is any indication, consistency may be an issue for Ajayi. Draft data suggests that people are already tempering expectations following the Tannehill injury as he’s fallen into the 2nd round on average. In the first round he’s a bit of a gamble but if you can get him in the 2nd or even the third he could be a steal as he’s unlike to relinquish many touches regardless.
Jarvis Landry – WR: While you may find yourself concerned with Landry’s outlook with Moore under center, it’s important to remember that as primarily the slot receiver, he’ll likely be targeted with a similar frequency. In the three games Moore started, Landry had two very good fantasy performances (9 catches on 12 targets for 76 yards and a TD in New England – and 4 catches for 108 yards and a TD against the Jets). If I were to bet on his usage, I would expect him to be a saftey blanket for Moore, leaving his value mostly untouched despite Tannehills absense.
DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills – WR: It’d be wise to bump both of these players down a bit in your rankings, but neither was an after thought in the three games Moore started last year. Parker has a bit more upside and his size makes him a redzone threat, but if the Dolphins find themselves throwing late in games (playing teams like New England will do that to ya) then both have potential to shine.
The bottom line is Tannehill could very well rehab and return, or he could opt for surgery and miss the year. While most teams would notice a massive step back without their starting QB, Moore has proven to be more than servicable as a starter and with Adam Gase coaching the team you can expect some fireworks from the passing game. Obviously playing in the AFC East presents a few challenges, but the Dolphins should still produce a few fantasy stars; provided you can get them at a reasonable draft price.
Over the next few days, we’ll publish a series entitled Sparknotes, each article will take a birds eye view into each NFL division and it’s most important fantasy players.
Despite Tom Brady’s four game suspension and two games with third string QB Jacoby Brissett, the Pats managed to run away with the AFC East yet again, with a 14-2 record. The Dolphin’s backed into the playoffs at 10-6 and both the Bills (7-9) and the Jets (5-11) finished on the outside.
New Englad Patriots
Notable Fantasy Stars: Tom Brady (QB2), Rob Gronkowski (TE1), Brandon Cooks (WR16), Julien Edelman (WR25), Mike Gillislee (RB27), James White (RB51)
Synopsis: The Patriots were busier than usual this past offseason, adding to a Superbowl winning roster with Brandin Cooks from New Orleans and Stephane Gilmore from Buffalo. Brady and Gronk continue as the Patriots two “sure things” on offense, but Cooks and Edelman (in PPR formats mostly) offer plenty of fantasy power. The Running back situation is murky at best; between Gillislee and White, NE projects to be one of the more fluid week-to-week RB committees again.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Jay Ajayi (RB9), Ryan Tannehill (QB20), Jarvis Landry (WR22), Julius Thomas (TE20), Devante Parker (WR40)
Synopsis: After a brutal finish to the season, Tannehill returns with the blessings of head coach Adam Gase. He’ll lead a passing attack that returns high-volume slot man Jarvis Landry and the buzzy Devante Parker, in addition to Gase’s former elite TE in Denver, Julius Thomas. In the backfield, Jay Ajayi will start the year no longer buried behind now-retired Arian Foster. Will he continue to dominate in short stretches? Half of his yards came in three games, so look for more conistency out of the second year back.
Notable Fantasy Stars: LeSean McCoy (RB4), Tyrod Taylor (QB11), Sammy Watkins (WR15), Charles Clay (TE26), Zay Jones (WR65), Jonathan Williams (RB69)
Synopsis: Buffalo may not be any closer to unseating New England in real life football, but this team has a wealth of young fantasy studs. McCoy should continue to see a ton of touches, but Jonathan Williams is quietly earning buzz as a deep sleeper thanks to the departure of Mike Gillislee. One assume if Sammy Watkins is healthy, he’ll be dominant, and the addition of Zay Jones in this years draft means less double teams for Watkins and more weapons for Taylor to use.
New York Jets
Notable Fantasy Stars: Bilal Powell (RB29), Josh McCown (QB30), Matt Forte (RB39), Quincy Enunwa (WR62), Robby Anderson (WR68)
Synopsis: Sorry Jets fans, but this is gonna be a long year. A conservative guess would have this team winning 3 games this year, but a byproduct of being behind in most games means that someone is going to score some garbage time points. All signs point to Bilal Powell (assuming he wrangles a larger chunk of touches from Forte) being the breakout fantasy star, but Quincy Enunwa should get a lot of attention from McCown now that Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are out of town. Robby Anderson is a nice little reciever but likely nothing more than a waiver wire pick up if things go well for him early.
Every year, I encourage fantasy owners to find a strategy and stick to it. The worst thing you can do is change your plan half way through a fantasy draft. While it’s important to target the players you like, it’s equally as important to note the players you hate, and to never compromise on your research.
Here are five players I refuse to draft this year in any format.
Rob Gronkowski – TE, New England Patriots
I’ve made this point before, and I’ll make it again; drafting a TE in the 2nd or 3rd round is not a smart move. When Gronk is healthy (a big if with him) he’s a world beater and far and away the best TE in football, but at his current draft position he presents too much risk for me with sure fire WR and QB on the board behind him (eg. Amari Cooper, Aaron Rodgers).
Jay Ajayi – RB, Miami Dolphons
I was one of Ajayi’s biggest fans when he was drafted out of Boise St, and I still think he projects to be a very good back in the NFL; I just don’t know if he’s ready to return the investment of a 2nd round pick. He’s currently being drafter around the 11-13 spot (first round in some leagues) and he’s done little outside of three monster games to prove that he’s worth that kind of capital.
Odell Beckahm Jr, WR – New York Giants
I’ll preface this by saying I’m a huge OBJ fan, I think he’s one of the most talented WRs in the league, but the conditions are ripe in NY for him to go bust. Read into Beckham’s antics all you want, but his absense at OTAs and his (alleged) strained relationship with Eli Manning don’t inspire confidence. Add into that mix another year with Shephard in the slot and the addition of Brandon Marshall and that’s a recipe for disaster. At his current ADP in the first round, there’s no chance OBJ ends up on any of my teams following the draft.
Mark Ingram, RB – New Orleans Saints
Ingram has long been labeled as injury prone, but last year he put together the finest season of his short NFL career. Then the Saints draft Alvin Kamara, a receiving specialist out of the backfield, and followed that up by signing one of the greatest RBs of all time in Adrian Peterson. Does this mean Ingram is on the outs in NO? Surely not, but I’ve learned that Peterson is at his best when he’s counted out, and the noise out of Saints camp is he’s playing with a massive chip on his shoulder. Ingram should remain the feature back for now, but there’s no telling if he wilts under the pressure from Peterson or if he loses passing downs to Kamar as the season goes on.
Cam Newton, QB – Carolina Panthers
This isn’t a knock on Newton, who’s unique skillset means he’ll probably put up decent numbers when he’s right; but the Panthers addition of Christian McCaffrey means to me that they want Newton to cut down on running the football and get back to running the offense. I still expect Newton to be servicable, but he’s no where near my QB6 and I’d much rather have several other QB’s ranked behind him in the later rounds.
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 – Isaiah Crowell: With an ADP around the 10th round, Crowell (at this point in the offseason) is due the largest workload of any RB behind him. Despite the noise surrounding his boneheaded internet presence this summer, he’s still in line for at least half of clevelands touches. Duke Johnson averaged slightly fewer yards per carry and had 80 fewer touches. If you think it goes closer to 50/50, you can still expect 130 touches and 600 yards and the lions share of goal line touches. If Johnson gets hurt or fades? Crowell could be a steal in round 10.
Highest Risk Reward – Alfred Morris: The whole world seems to be sold on Ezekiel Elliot in Dallas, and where there’s smoke there’s fire. If he struggles early, veteran RB Alfred Morris stands to gain the most. Running behind that line, and with his ability to help on 3 downs, Morris only needs the door to open to have some big games. His ADP of around 150 means he’s a handcuff or at best a late round flier, but one that could be gold if he gets the touches.
Big Ole’ Bust – Justin Forsett: Entering his age 30 season, Forsett is likely in for a big drop off. Added to the mix is Kenneth Dixon, the fourth round pick in this years NFL draft. There’s some chatter out of Baltimore that he’s pushing for some playing time. As Forsett continues to wain, he’s likely to find himself out of a starters spot by the end of the year.
Bonus – Jay Ajayi: For a while after Lamar Millers departure, it looks like Ajayi would find all three downs to himself. The addition of Arian Foster dulls his prospects for the 2016/17 season, but don’t let it disuade you from stashing him in the later rounds. Foster hasn’t been healthy in years, and Ajayi is a dynamic runner who can help in the passing game, and he should be viewed with a decent amount of upside for this year.
With the 2015 NFL draft complete, and exciting young players folding into NFL rosters, it’s time to take a look at what the new fantasy landscape looks like.
To assess these players and their impact on their new teams, it’s essential to understand who is in front of them on the organizational depth chart. Will they supplant the incumbent starter? How many touches should they see? Lets take a look at where our top offensive prospects landed.
Todd Gurley / St. Louis Rams : If you’re a Zac Stacy fan, this one stings. Gurley should be eased into the starting role due to his recent injury status, but come playoff time it’s likely he’ll have taken over the bulk of the playing time from Stacy. The Rams threw 3 of their first 5 picks at offensive line players, so a renewed focus on a running game to balance with new starting QB in Nick Foles could mean moderate fantasy relevance for Gurley.
Melvin Gordon / San Diego Chargers : This was a uniquely perfect landing spot for the speedy Gordon. His ability to play on passing downs means he should have an immediate impact for fantasy owners willing to draft him. In PPR leagues his value jumps as San Diego has shown a willingness to use it’s backs in the passing game. With the departure of Ryan Mathews, Gordon slide into the starting roll week 1.
T J Yeldon / Jacksonville Jaguars : Yeldon has elite speed, and shows a lot of promise, but has a spotty history in terms of in the field health. Toby Gerhart is not the answer so expect the Jag’s to give Yeldon the chance to win the spot out of camp.
Ameer Abdulah / Detroit Lions : Great speed, and can be an asset in the running game, but has been labelled as a player who puts the ball on the ground. In my opinion, he’s not a threat to eat into Joquie Bell’s touches too much; view as a late round flier, and only if you think Bell may get dinged up.
Tevin Coleman / Atlanta Falcons : Billed as an extremely violent, top speed type player, Coleman could very well impress and steal the job from under Devonta Freemans nose. Freeman has not shown he can be healthy enough to hold the reigns on the starting spot, so Coleman could be a candidate to slide in drafts and still take the bulk of his teams carries.
Duke Johnson / Cleveland Browns : Drafted by the mess that is the Cleveland Browns, Johnson has the tools to be a good passing down back, but has quite an uphill climb with Isaiah Cromwell and Terrance West ahead of him. The only saving grace is that Cleveland experimented in the backfield frequently after Ben Tate flamed out. If Cromwell or West struggle early, Johnson could find himself on the field.
David Johnson / Arizona Cardinals : A big, physical back, Johnson has great hands and can catch the ball too. His skill set has been compared to that of Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell. More importanty, the underwhelming Andre Ellington sits in front of him on the depth chart. They should compliment each other early on, but if Johnson impresses, could take the reigns later in the season.
Matt Jones / Washington Redskins : Matt Jones is a big boy, and runs like it too. Unfortunately, he sits behind Alfred Morris. He’s unlikely to have much fantasy relevance unless Morris misses a big chunk of time.
Jay Ajayi / Miami Dolphins: Ajayi has one of the best skillsets in the draft, but concerns about his knee injury saw him fall to the Dolphins in the 5th round. Reports of his knee have been said to be greatly exagerated, and if healthy, Ajayi could be a gem in an offense that showed commitment to getting it’s RB’s involved. This could mean Miller’s time in Miami is numbered.
David Cobb – RB / Tennesse Titans : Cobb was an under the radar favorite of pundits and draft experts. More of a compact power runner, Cobb finds himself only slightly behind incumbent starter Bishop Sankey. Sankey failed to impress in his rookie year, but the question remains how much of that can be attributed to an awful passing game? Cobb will have opportunities to steal the job with rookie QB Marcus Mariotta taking over the reigns, but it’s Sankey’s job to lose (for now).