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.
One of the most useless exercises that gets perpetuated during every sport’s preseason time is the “bold predictions” article. But since this is the fantasy sports blogger equivalent to “if all of your friends jump off a bridge” argument, I suppose I’ll jump too (featuring a whole lot of sarcasm).
1. Leonard Fournette has a monster sophomore slump, finishing outside the top 20 for running backs and costing his teams a shot at the title.
2. Jared Goff wins the MVP. With added weapons, and an elite defense protecting leads, Goff throws for 4,500 yards and 33 TDs.
3. Juju Smith-Schuster pushes Antonio Brown for the most targets on the Steeler’s roster and easily crests 1,200 yards receiving.
4. Evan Engram finishes as the TE1, scoring 16 touch downs to fall one shy of the TE record of 17.
5. Tyrod Taylor rushes for 700 yards and finishes as a top 5 QB despite Cleveland losing 10 games.
6. Saquon Barkley is a monster disappointment, costing fantasy owners a top 20 pick but rewarding them with less than 500 yards and nearly no contributions in the passing game.
7. Sam Darnold beats out the other quarterbacks in the preseason to start week one, and manages to win 8 games for the Jets as a rookie.
8. Sammy Watkins passes Tyreek Hill on the depth chart in Kansas City and coasts past the 100 target mark to finish as a top 15 WR.
9. Jeremy Hill fends off former teammate Rex Burkhead for the Patriots first two downs, and while he misses the 1,000 yard mark, manages 10+ scores for the first time in 2 years.
10. Minnesota Vikings fails to produce a top 15 WR as Kirk Cousins struggles in his first season for the Vikings.
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.
With Giovani Bernard’s knee surgery taking longer than expected to recover, the news out of Cincinatti is that he may be questionable for week 1 (possibly beyond that). Joe Mixon figures to be the starter on day one, so Bernard was little more than a flex option in deeper leagues and for PPR formats, but this news seriously impacts his value.
If Hill can compliment Mixon, then expect the Bengals to take their time with Bernard. Temper expectations going into your draft, and pending a miraculous recovery, draft Bernard as a late round flier only.
It’s a simple fact that today’s NFL features a large number of teams that have shifted philosophies away from three down backs and towards a two or three back committee. This fact impacts fantasy preperation in two different ways: 1. It adds value to players like Marshawn Lynch who will dominate the touches in the backfield and 2. it creates a shroud of mystery around backfields with two good or great backs.
If you’re smart (lucky) enough to sift through the conjecture and select a back that emerges from a committee to workhorse (eg. Lamar Miller over Knowshon Moreno in 2014, or Moreno over Montee Ball in 2013) then you’ll avoid the fantasy pit that can suck your whole team in if you’re wrong. You can mitigate this risk by correctly evaluation these situation and valuing backs correctly.
Committee’s to Avoid
Cincinnati Bengals: Much like last years pre-season hype surrounding Giovanni Bernard, Jeremy Hills usurping of the throne has created a false sense of security in the Bengals backfield. If you look at the fantasy performance, Hill bested Bernard in Yards (1100 to 650) but he scored at roughly the same clip, only cresting 15 points a handful of times in PPR formats and averaging less than .05 points better per touch than Bernard. If you think the Bengals are going to just hand over the reigns to Hill you’d be wrong. Bernard will still be a big part of the offense, and may actually carry better value in PPR leagues due to his 3rd down ability. The chance for him to steal the starting job back from Hill is very real, so this is a backfield I’m staying away from at all costs if I can.
Arizona Cardinals: Andre Ellington had a rough year, but much of that could be attributed to the overall inconsistency in Arizona’s offense last year. The problem for Ellington is that they added RB David Johnson in the draft who should push Ellington for starting time and will likely eat into his production. Ellington was nothing to write home about without a young stud waiting in the wings and I’d argue that his value takes a steeper hit this year with a player who could potentially replace him as the starting RB.
Detroit Lions: One of the more underrated draft selections, Ameer Abdullah may not be running Joique Bell off the field, but his ability should keep Bell from being the defacto guy on all three downs in Detroit. A team that likes to throw the ball, there may not be as many touches for Bell to retain his value, causing me to avoid him at his current ADP.
Tennessee Titans: Bishop Sankey was a huge disappointment for fantasy owners who drafted him last year after being the first back selected in the NFL draft. He struggled to find holes and never really live up to the pre-season hype. The Titans went out and revamped each of their skill positions, adding Marcus Mariota, David Cobb, and Dorial Green-Beckham signaling a shift in offense. Sankey’s underwhelming performance and questions around his ability to transition to the NFL game could open the door early for Cobb to steal the starting spot. I would avoid Sankey in drafts and maybe look at Cobb late if he falls far enough.
New York Jets: This team seems to be a mess in the backfield every year. The experiment to add Chris Johnson did nothing to foster competition, and Chris Ivory plodded off with the starting role. Despite having a solid yet unspectacular year, the Jets showed they have little faith in him by adding cast off’s Stevan Ridley and Zac Stacy to compete. All three are capable NFL backs, but none of them are three down workhorses. If Ridley can hold on to the football, he may have the best chance to steal the bulk of the carries, but this is a committee I won’t touch with a ten foot pole.
Lets now take a look at my WAAAAY too early RB rankings.
- Marshawn Lynch
- Jamaal Charles
- Adrian Peterson
- DeMarco Murray
- Le’Veon Bell
- Eddie Lacy
- Arian Foster
- CJ Anderson
- LeSean McCoy
- Lamar Miller
- Jonathan Stewart
- Alfred Morris
- Mark Ingram
- Jeremy Hill
- Latavius Murray
- Melvin Gordon
- Joique Bell
- Darren McFadden
- Justin Forsett
- Frank Gore
- Andre Ellington
- Isaiah Crowell
- Giovanni Bernard
- Carlos Hyde
- Rashad Jennings
- Todd Gurley
- Doug Miller
- LeGarrette Blount
- TJ Yeldon
- Bishop Sankey
- Chris Ivory
- Reggie Bush
- Devonta Freeman
- Shane Vereen
- Ryan Mathews
- CJ Spiller
- Stevan Ridley
- DeAngelo Williams
- Tevin Coleman
- Tre Mason
- Joseph Randle
- Khiry Robinson
- Montee Ball
- Andre Williams
- Zac Stacy
- Alfred Blue
- Ameer Abdullah
- Jonas Gray
- David Johnson
- Knile Davis
- Lamar Miller – After it was apparent that Miller had lost his job to Knowshon Moreno prior to the 2014 season, fantasy owners soured on the often over valued Miller. He rewarded his owners with a solid, consistent fantasy year. Confident in his starting position and with new weapons in the Miami offense, Miller should have more room to run.
- Latavius Murray – The Raiders coaching staff has been vocal in the off season that they want to taylor the run game to Murray’s strengths and use him as a way to protect their young upstart QB in Derek Carr. Murray could be a middle round workhorse.
- Jonathan Stewart – The once crowded backfield in Carolina has shed it’s dead weight and the onus will be on Stewart to tote the rock. When he’s played a larger role, Stewart has been an elite fantasy option in the past.
- DeMarco Murray – If you’re looking at a RB to regress significantly, there’s no better candidate than Murry. Whether you point to the Dallas O-Line for his success or at LeSean McCoys inability to churn out yards despite toting the ball 340 times, there’s so many questions and not a lot of answers.
- Darren McFadden – The man tasked to replaced Murray, McFadden has begrudgingly been moved up many draft boards, but his injury history doesn’t bode well with the fact that Dallas likes to use their RB’s. Joseph Randle ran the ball well in limited exposure last year, so I’d worry that McFadden won’t finish the year in the top spot.
- Jeremy Hill – The excitement around Jeremy Hill had in part to do with how easily he fished the starting gig from Giovanni Bernard. Still, the numbers don’t bear out that he’s worth where he’s being drafted. In fact, his numbers look similar to Bernards when set side by side, don’t expect him to have an outrageous amount of touches.
With the NFL draft complete and most of the big time trades and free agent moves in the rear view mirror, the ultra dedicated among us have started our fantasy prep work. If you’re playing in a keeper league, there are so many things to take into account when deciding who you need to have on your roster next year. Using 2014 ADP numbers, we evaluate who are the best candidates to be kept in your leagues.
- Le’Veon Bell – ADP 27: In all likely hood due to his DUI arrest, Bell was drafted later than the back end of the 2nd round. All Bell did was turn in a top 5 RB season and show up as the top pass catching back in the league. Bell is a 1st round target this year, and if you’re lucky enough to have drafted him later in the draft (like I did in the 4th round) he’ll be a heck of a keeper.
- TY Hilton – ADP 56: It’s rare that a player exceeds the pre-draft hype like Hilton did last year. Finishing near the top ten for WR’s in fantasy scoring, Hilton is a volume reciever in an elite passing offense. The only concern here is that recently aquired Andre Johnson may eat into his numbers a little bit. Still, I expect Hilton to be a 2nd round pick.
- Emmanuel Sanders – ADP 67: When Eric Decker left and Sanders came in, we figured he’d slide in as the 4th option behind the two Thomas’ and Wes Welker. All Sanders did was finish with 100 catches, 1400 yards and 9 TD’s. With Julius Thomas gone, it’s a good bet that Sanders will continue to see elite numbers.
- Sammy Watkins – ADP 73: The hype surrounding Watkins was for real as Watkins caught 65 balls for 900+ yards and 6 TD’s. This is even more impressive when you consider he’s the only weapon in the Bills offense. If the parts around him improve, he’s a safe bet for 70-80 catches and 1100 yards.
- Russell Wilson – ADP 84: It’s amazing to me that in Fantasy circles Wilson still doesn’t get any respect. Sure, he may not have the aqumen under center to be mistaken for a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but combine his skills on the ground with an efficient passing game, and Wilson finished in the top 3 for Fantasy contributions among QB’s. Not bad in the 8th round.
- Greg Olsen – ADP 94: Olsen has always been an above average TE in the passing game, but he became a true threat this year in Carolina’s offense. With a healthy Cam Newton, expect Olsen to finish at or near the top of the TE rankings again this year.
- Mike Evans – ADP 96: The knock on Evans was that his game played a lot like Vincent Jackson’s and with a lack of QB skill, he may not live up to the hype. Flash forward and Evans finished as the #1 rookie WR in terms of fantasy contributions. A freakish athlete, should continue to produce with Jameis Winston likely being better than the rotation of QB’s the Bucs used last year.
- Carlos Hyde – ADP 103: It was bound to happen at some point. Frank Gore is no longer a 49er, leaving the door wide open for the talented Hyde to run away with the job… pun intended.
- Lamar Miller – ADP 124: Knowshon Moreno arrived from Denver prior to the 2014 season and many thought it signaled the end of Miller in Miami. When the Fins lost Moreno for the year due to injury, Miller stepped his game up and contributed nearly 1100 yards and 8 TD’s on the ground, and was a factor in the passing games for PPR owners. With the passing game getting better through the draft, expect more room to run.
- Jeremy Hill – ADP 134: Hill had to battle for playing time from Giovanni Bernard who was expected to be a 3 down back for the versatile Bengals offense. Instead it was Hill who put up great numbers and enters the year firmly entrentched as the number one option in Cincy.
- Jordan Matthews ADP 150: 67 Catches and 870 yards made for a great season for Matthews. The departure of Jeremy Maclin means that Matthews can expect a bump in production. The only cloud over his 2015 season is that Sam Bradford holds the keys to the car now, and an injury could throw a wrench in the gears.
- Odell Beckham ADP 154: This one shouldn’t surprise anyone, down the stretch Beckham was the most devestating fantasy player, racking up 20+ points (even more in PPR leagues) in 5 of the final 6 weeks of the season. There’s no reason to believe that he won’t perform at the top of the WR rankings.
- DeAndre Hopkins ADP 168: When you’re performance is enough for a team to send Andre Johnson packing, odds are you wowed some people. Hopkins finished 12th in yards (1210) and 20th in receptions (76) all while hauling in 6 TD’s. Now that Johnson is gone, Hopkins is a bonafide #1 and will likely go in the top 30 picks of your draft.
- Mark Ingram ADP 186: Ingram did what other first year busts like Trent Richardson and Darren McFadden couldn’t. He finally came through for owners. Running away with the starting gig, Ingram has 980 yards in 13 games for the Saints. An offseason that saw the Saints look to balance out the offense, Ingram stands to gain the most from the changes and could challenge for a top 15 RB spot.
- Derek Carr ADP 200: I hesitate to put QB’s on here because they are a dime a dozen in the middle of the pack, but Carr was drafted near the end of most standard drafts, and with the addition of Amari Cooper and finally having a competent back means that Carr could be a breakout in his sophomore season.
- Ryan Tannehill ADP 215: Tannehill had a coming out party in 2014, quietly leading an efficient offense in Miami that only got better in the offseason. He may never approach the elite status, but he’s a safe bet to put 4,000 and 25-30 TD’s along with a few hundred yards on the ground.
- Darren McFadden ADP 218: It would take a strong stomach to keep a guy like McFadden, but with DeMarco Murray gone and no RB’s coming in through the draft, McFadden will be the guy running behind the best O-Line in football. If he stays healthy (a big if) he’ll WAY outperform his ADP from 2014.
- Travis Kelce ADP 248: There was a lot of hype surrounding Kelce coming into the season. A massive and athletic TE who can catch, block and score he was drafted criminally low. Drafters won’t be fooled this year as Kelce has very little competition to catch passes in KC from the TE spot.
- Sam Bradford ADP 245: Similar in situation to Darren McFadden the oft injuried but talented starting QB of the Eagles should benefit from having a much better team around him in Philly than he ever did in St. Louis. Just like how Foles and Sanchez had great performances in the Chip Kelly offense, I expect Bradford to finally return the investment that drafters made when taking him.
- Steve Smith Sr. ADP 248: Even at his advanced age and with the addition of Perriman in the draft, Smith should continue to be a PPR machine. He may not command a top 30 pick, but he’ll go well before his 2014 ADP.
- C.J. Anderson ADP – : Anderson was likely a waiver wire guy in your league, and now he’s the stud in an offense full of them. With the Broncos looking to protect Peyton Manning, Anderson could finish as a top 10 RB.
- Brandon LaFell ADP – : There was speculation the Patriots could try to bolster it’s offense in the draft, instead LaFell gets the vote of confidence as he will be the main WR target for Tom Brady in 2015. Gronk and Edeleman will have a lot of touches, but LaFell should finish inside the top 30 WR’s.
- Delanie Walker ADP – : Undrafted, Walker was a beast early in the season. He has the tools to be a top 5 TE in the league, and with Tennessee improving on offense with the addition of Marcus Mariota, a healthy Walker could be in for a bump in production even over a successfull 2014 campain.