With off season programs well underway, we’re finally seeing news trickle in that help us identify players who are trending up and those who are trending down. Of course, the key is to block out the hyperbolic “coach speak” articles posted on team-friendly blogs and websites, and focus only on the stuff that feels genuine. Take it with a grain of salt, but this is what we’re hearing around the league.
Kenny Golladay, WR – DET
The Lions have had an interesting second off season under head coach Matt Patricia. Budding star Kerryon Johnson has proclaimed his desire to feature less as a work horse, Marvin Jones continues to recover slowly from a knee injury that ended his 2018 early, and it was revealed that Matthew Stafford was dealing with a broken back for parts of 2018. The one constant we can point to in this offense is the precense of Golladay as the top passing target this year for the Lions. With Jones not participating still in off season programs, we’re comfortable moving Golladay up in our positional rankings, and re-tiering him into the potential WR1 area. We’re confident that he’ll have an excellent 2019.
Tevin Coleman, RB – SF
When Coleman signed in San Fransisco, we were skeptical of how that backfield would be handled. Shanahan has shown a willingness in the past to using two backs for two very different purposes, and we weren’t sure just how Coleman fit into that picture with McKinnon possessing very good pass catching abilities, and Brieda and Mostert having had some success as well. Now, with the concerns arising with McKinnon’s recovery, and Brieda’s absense at OTA’s, it’s been Coleman that’s assumed the defacto #1 spot. With his history of success under Shanahan, we see a clear path to excellent fantasy production in 2019.
Andrew Luck, QB – IND
It’s hard to trend up when you’re already being considered one of the top three options at the position in fantasy circles for 2019, but with the questions surrounding Hill in KC, Luck is slowly becoming one of the better values in the early rounds for the position. He’s still going earlier than we like for our own selection, but the addition of Funchess, who has been impressing in camp, as well as speedster Parris Campbell in the draft, and you can see how this receiving group could be lethal. Expect Luck to live up to the lofty expectations we’re labeling him for in 2019.
Marqise Lee, WR – JAC
Going into 2018, it looks like Lee was poised to breakout, but a season ending injury cost him the entire season. Considering the success of players like Dede Westbrook, it’s concerning that Lee has been sidelined so far throughout the off season program in Jacksonville. If he’s slower to returning, the likely hood of him returning to fantasy relevance becomes more and more difficult to justify.
Miles Sanders, RB – PHI
Sanders has been sidelined to start OTAs and the news out of Philadelphia is that he’s slowly falling behind the other backs in terms of potential usage. With Doug Pederson’s history of using a committee, Sanders will need a miracle to be anything other than a future asset, as Jordan Howard and company should assume a larger share of the early downs, leaving Sanders as a difficult sell even as the 32nd back off the board on average. We’re never high on rookie RB’s to begin with, but Sanders is going to get the full fade treatment from us until further notice.
Marcus Mariota, QB – TEN
My attention was piqued when I heard Mariota was planning on playing at a weight about 15 pounds heavier than he had previously, leading to concerns that he’d eschew running to stay in the pocket. One of Mariota’s best fantasy attributes has been his ability to mitigate any lack of production through the air by running the ball. With the recent news that the Titans GM suggested the team wants Mariota to run less in general, and it’s becoming clear that this could be a difficult year for Mariota owners. Until he proves he can be successful in the pocket, an immobilized Mariota is a player I’m unlikely to own shares of.
Injuries happen, we’re all familiar with the pain of a lost season, but as we enter the doldrums of the off season, it’s as good a time as any to talk about the players who didn’t finish the 2018 season due to injury, and what we can expect for 2019.
Jerick McKinnon, San Francisco 49ers
The idea that McKinnon was a three down back was debated heavily during last off season, and it’s likely to be a sticking point in the fantasy community in 2019 as well following a pre-season injury that cost him the entire 2018 season. The 49er’s used a stable of backs to replace the production they expected from McKinnon, and most impressive was 2nd year back Matt Brieda who took his opportunities and ran with them (pun intended). Despite the presence of veteran Alfred Morris, Brieda managed nearly 60 yards per game (814 yards) and a healthy 31 targets.
So what does this mean for McKinnon? Currently he’s being targeted as a back end RB2 (RB23 or so) in Standard leagues, and as an RB3 in PPR leagues (RB27), which is a hell of a discount for a player many expected to compete for the top 10 at the position this time last year. Brieda was a revelation, but I’d be surprised if the 49ers didn’t give McKinnon the chance to win the job early on. This is one to keep an eye on, and if his current 7th round projection holds true, he’s a good bounce back candidate to target if you’re comfortable drafting backs in the later rounds.
The Dr.’s EARLY Predictions, 170 attempts, 740 Yards, 4 TDs, 22 Receptions, 200 Receiving Yards
Derrius Guice, Washington Redskins
Prior to his season ending knee injury, Guice was a popular choice among rookie backs to be a fairly productive NFL running back right out of the gates. In limited pre-season looks, it appeared that those predictions were safe. Then a knee injury against the Patriots derailed his season before it even began.
So in his stead, the Redskins signed the ageless Adrian Peterson to carry the load, and he was surprisingly productive. In 271 total touches, AP managed to put together a good stat line of 1,200 total yards, 21 receptions, and 8 total TDs. Considering that this should be Guice’s offense in 2019, it’s a good sign that this team ran the ball well with a 32 year old back.
Still… is Guice worth what’s shaping up to be a fourth round pick? Currently, Guice is being ranked in the late teens among running backs in PPR formats (18 per FantasyFootballCalculator) which I’d argue is a bit too high for a back who will likely only see early downs. With Chris Thompson likely to steal the passing downs (as long as he’s healthy) it’s unlikely that Guice turns in an elite season, and could be in for a slow start as Washington may be willing to ease him into the game plan early.
The Dr.’s EARLY Prediction: 220 Attempts, 950 Yards, 6 TDs, 25 catches, 180 Yards.
Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
While it’s certainly good news that the asking price on the former top 5 fantasy back has come down, the idea of adding Freeman as a 2nd or 3rd back is still a terrifying prospect. Despite his history as a three down workhorse, Freeman’s recent struggles with injury have led to speculation surrounding the Atlanta backfield and what the team may eventually do to secure a more consistent product at the running back position.
Could it be Freeman, who, by all accounts, Atlanta expects to compete for lead duties? Sure, but with how well Tevin Coleman played in his absence and how relatively unknown depth pieces like Brian Hill and Ito Smith performed, there’s some danger in expecting him to return to the volume that had him pigeon holed as a RB1.
Even if he’s healthy, I’m not convinced Freeman handles a healthy enough dose of touches. Even a 60/40 split with Coleman and company means 180-210 rushing attempts and less than 1,000 yards. Currently being selected in early draft formats (read: take with a grain of salt) as the 20th back off the board, he’s a huge risk as a teams 2nd running back. Guys like Kerryon Johnson, Damien Wilson, Kenyan Drake, and Chris Carson are all being ranked behind him, and all have a better route to RB2 touches.
The Dr.’s EARLY predictions: 150 rushing attempts, 660 yards, 4TDs 18 receptions for 180 yards.
Honorable Mentions: It was the out of nowhere arrival of Phillip Lindsay that caught the attention of many in the industry, as the diminutive back leapfrogged the buzzy Royce Freeman to be the lead back on a Denver team that was clearly lacking elsewhere. After suffering a major wrist injury late in the season, Lindsay’s only obstacle to returning to the top of the depth chart is his recovery. Of course, Freeman could impress and steal away touches, but he’ll continue to be relevant regardless as his passing game contributions are safe. Unlike Lindsay, Kerryon Johnson garnered a fair share of buzz in the preseason, but fell in drafts simply because the narrative was Detroit couldn’t produce fantasy running backs. Prior to the team shutting him down later in the season, Johnson was electric in spite of this, slowly endearing himself to the fans in Detroit and carving out a major role in it’s offense. This year he should step in and take the leap into RB2 territory, including the potential for a handful of RB1 weeks.
** UPDATE **
It’s official, today’s MRI revealed a torn ACL and the news that McKinnon will be out of the entirety of the 2018 season. This is a certain blow to fantasy teams that invested an early round pick on the back in hopes that Kyle Shanahan could turn him into the PPR monster that he’d become known for forming. Alfred Morris should handle early round work and Matt Brieda becomes a PPR target with some upside should he have the chance to work early downs.
It hasn’t been long since we’ve typed a similar headline, but during Saturday’s practice McKinnon suffered what some are saying looked like a season ending knee injury. While cutting, McKinnon was not contacted and went down in an awkward way. At this point, we’ll have to wait on the results of the MRI but newly added Alfred Morris looks like the obvious choice to take early downs while Matt Brieda gets a bump as his usage should increase as well.
We’ll update you as soon as more is known.
Much like our updates to the sleeper list, the Dr. is here to tell you who he’s avoiding in drafts this year. Of course, any time we’re suggesting to NOT draft a player, it’s understood that we’re referencing the current cost to acquire said player. All players have value, we’re just trying to help you maximize the value you receiving with each of your picks.
Tom Brady, QB – NE
As a card carrying member of the Tom Brady fan club, it pains me to include him on this list, but it’s important to remain realistic. His late season struggles in the last few years has been well documented, and much of the blame can be assigned on his offensive line. At 41 years old and behind one of the worst offensive lines he’s had in years, Brady is no safe bet to stay healthy all year, and the late season regression he’s seen for years now is a near guarantee. Sure, he’ll win 12 games for his football team, but he’s not as safe a pick as he has been in the past for your fantasy one.
Carson Wentz, QB – PHI
I’m not suggesting Wentz isn’t a good quarterback by including him on this list; I’m merely drawing attention to the fact that he’s being ranked far to high for my liking. While it’s encouraging that he’s returning from his injury so quickly, it’s important to remember that QB’s returning from knee injuries tend to take time to get up to speed. Head coach Doug Pederson went as far as to describe Wentz’s play as “tentative” further reinforcing the idea that he may not be 100%. Expecting the rushing game to return to the levels it did last year isn’t realistic, and neither is expecting him to remain hyper efficient in the face of NFL defenses. Expecting a low end QB1 finish isn’t outrageous, but drafting him at QB5 is expecting him to play at his ceiling; something I’m not confident a QB returning from injury can do.
Jerick McKinnon, RB – SF
When McKinnon was handed a three year contract by San Francisco in the offseason, I was one of the first to declare that McKinnon was set to breakout in a big way. After all, he was playing the lead back role in an up and coming Kyle Shanahan offense. Then, I put the time in to research, and while most of the industry is expecting big things, there’s a well defined group in the community who expect McKinnon to fall flat on his face. While I exist somewhere in between, the truth is that McKinnon has never really shown that he’s got lead back ability. Between losing snaps to Matt Asiata when Adrian Peterson went down, to posting sub 4 yards per carry in limited action over the last two seasons, it appears that we were a bit premature anointing the second coming of Emmett Smith. Expecting him to play all season as a RB1 is a recipe for disaster.
Derrick Henry, RB – TEN
Henry is a back that I personally think has the talent to be a top 10 RB in the league, but Tennessee had the great idea to add elite satellite back Dion Lewis to muddy the waters that had begun to clear when DeMarco Murray left town. Currently being drafted 25th overall, Henry has a steep hill to climb to secure a three down workload, and with a pick in the third round, I’m not sure I’m willing to spend it on a back who’s whole claim to the position was his college production. Henry could prove to be a very useful fantasy asset, but it’ll be only at the expense of Dion Lewis, who’d need to suffer a major injury to open up passing downs for the young Henry.
Tyreek Hill, WR – KC
I’d like to preface this by saying I think Hill is one of the most talented down-the-field receivers in the NFL, but not enough is being made of the situation he’s facing with a first year starter and added weapons suppressing his overall value. Alex Smith may be rightly panned over his career for being a conservative quarterback, but expecting Pat Mahomes to step in and play even close to the season Smith had last year is insane. As an MVP candidate, Smith was one of the most efficient deep ball practitioners last year, and while Mahomes features a monster arm, there are going to be growing pains. While Hill should still be productive, he’s a regression candidate yet he’s being draft as though that’s a fallacy. If he falls a round or two, he’d be worth grabbing, but not as a WR1.
Juju Smith-Schuster, WR – PIT
I’m amazed at how quickly a player went from being un-drafted to being over drafted, but Juju managed it in record time. While he’s a name that I was hoping to target in drafts this year, I’m not touching him at his current price. Being drafted before Brandin Cooks, Josh Gordon, Larry Fitzgerald, and Demaryius Thomas, there’s clearly an unreasonable expectation that the Pittsburgh offense can support both Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell as top 5 players and elevate Juju to anything more than a back-end WR2. The issue with drafting him at 42nd overall, his current ADP, is that you can’t expect him to outperform that position. We say it all the time, never draft a player at their ceiling, unless you’re prepared to be disappointed.
Jimmy Graham, TE – GB
Sure, it wasn’t long ago that Graham was considered one of the two or three best pass catching tight ends in the league. His time in New Orleans saw him secure no less than 85 catches over a four year period from 2010 to 2014, but the wheels came off in his first year with the Seahawks. While he was much better in 2016, the now 31 year old TE looked his age last year, performing admirably in the end zone but failing to record more than 65 receptions for the third straight year. In Green Bay, he’ll likely be asked to play a similar role, featuring mostly in the red zone, with less target share thanks to a deeper wide receiver corps. Expecting a return to the pre-Seahawks form is asinine, yet he’s being drafted 5th at the position, before Greg Olsen, Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, and Delanie Walker; all candidates I expect to finish ahead of Graham by seasons end.
Adam Theilen has seen his ADP drop a bit, so he’s no longer a focus on these bust lists, but he’s still being drafted a bit too high for me to like his value. Kenyan Drake was impressive in his limited time last year, but he doesn’t have the pedigree or track record to perform as a top 10 RB over a full season, and Miami’s offseason moves seem to say the same thing. DeShaun Watson has had plenty of time to recover from his major knee injury, but the obvious regression coming seems to be ignored when setting expectations. As the 4th QB off the board, I’m out on Watson.
What was once merely a crowded backfield is now akin to a clown car, as former Redskins and Cowboys bell cow back Alfred Morris has been added to the fold. It is easy to connect the dots following a Jerick McKinnon injury scare and this signing, so forgive me if my wavering opinion of McKinnon as a three down back takes yet another shot.
The issue becomes what do the 49ers trust McKinnon to do? With Breida on the roster, we have to cap his passing game output, and this addition puts a cap on his touchdowns as Morris is a much better red zone back. What McKinnon then becomes is a between the twenties guy who can’t be expected to have the 15-20 touches a game we were hoping for.
Of course, the chance is always there for McKinnon to surprise us as we’ve never really seen him with an uncontested workload, but it’ll take a lot of impressing to hold off the stable of backs behind him. Even Joe Williams should be in line for some work, so temper your expectations when drafting McKinnon. At this point, he’s in a bit of a slide in the Dr’s rankings, and he should be moving down your draft boards as well.
When it was reported that Jerick McKinnon was removed from practice for a knee injury following a hit, we held our breath as we awaited the results of his Sunday MRI. When the results came back as a “mild muscle strain” it was met with a collective sigh of relief. Following the Guice injury, it’s understandable that we may have expected the worst.
With McKinnon likely to start week 1, the concern becomes whether or not he can hold up over a 16 game season with a full lead-back workload. His 200 combined touches last year was his most in a single season, and expecting him to remain healthy with an additional 100 touches may be a bit of a pipe dream.
McKinnon profiles as the kind of back who, when healthy, can provide dividends thanks to his proficiency in the passing game, but it may be a bit premature to anoint him a top 12 running back in fantasy. His current ADP in standard ESPN leagues is 26th overall, good for RB14, a tick down from where he’d been in weeks past. It seems that drafters are starting to get cold feet with McKinnon as anything other than an RB2. He’s a high risk play who, while the argument for a high floor stems from the idea that he’ll have three down opportunity, features a fair amount of risk in the third round of drafts.
At his current draft price, I won’t be owning many shares in McKinnon this year; though I see the value in McKinnon if he falls a bit farther. There are few unproven backs who have been given the keys to the kingdom like McKinnon has, so the unknown may not be a dissuasion for some. Draft with caution.
25. Arizona Cardinals
Similar to Dallas, this top heavy roster has failed to produce beyond it’s run game and Larry Fitzgerald for years. Both Johnson and Fitzgerald are fairly safe bets, but who else on the roster can you trust. Newly signed QB Sam Bradford has never wowed me, but his efficiency may help support a 2nd QB if he can stay healthy. That, of course is the million dollar question… can he stay healthy?
Players worth Drafting: David Johnson (ADP 3), Larry Fitzgerald (ADP 33), Christian Kirk (ADP 182)
In ESPN mock drafts neither Bradford or Rosen are being selected with any regularity, further muddying the waters beyond the two players being selected early. Kirk is a buzzy rookie, but the rest of the roster seems to be off of the radar. Of course, if Bradford gets hurt, Rosen could be a sneaky waiver add; his profile certainly looks like that of an NFL starter.
Deep Sleeper: While Kirk was my first choice, the buzz surrounding him is loud enough now that Ricky-Seals Jones is currently being overlooked as a potential breakout candidate. A WR in college, Jones certainly profiles as a pass catching TE, and only his ability to pass block can keep him from seeing meaningful snaps in the passing game.
24. Washington Redskins
Like many of the teams in this range, turnover at the most important position in football, the quarter back position, could mean any number of things. Will Alex Smith continue to throw the ball down field after reinventing himself in Kansas City last year? Can the post hype potential of guys like Josh Doctson finally be realized?
Worth Drafting: Derrius Guice (ADP 40), Jordan Reed (ADP 85), Chris Thompson (ADP 99), Jamison Crowder (ADP 100), Alex Smith (ADP 129), Josh Doctson (ADP 137), Paul Richardson (ADP 174)
It was a strange season for Washington last year. Despite the heroic efforts of Kirk Cousins, the offense never really found a rhythm, and the ADP data suggests that no one really knows who will emerge as a top 25 WR. Alex Smith has made a career out of making the safe play, so expecting a return to last years gun slinging ways is a bit pre-mature, but Jordan Reed may be the biggest beneficiary if he can stay healthy. Odds are he won’t, but Smith tends to turn TE’s into elite fantasy options, and Reed has the talent to be a top 5 TE this season.
Deep Sleeper: While Alex Smith will have to gain some chemistry with his new team, 2nd string TE Vernon Davis is already intimately familiar with the former first overall pick. I expect Davis to have a healthy amount of snaps in this offense, and while he’s been mostly quiet since leaving San Fransisco, the TE is still a great athlete and he’s turned in his best seasons with Smith at the helm. For just about nothing, he has Top 15 potential (at the TE position).
23. San Fransisco 49ers
One of the busiest teams in the last year and a half, the 49ers went out and got what they consider a cornerstone pairing with Jerick McKinnon in the backfield to go with QB Jimmy Garoppolo. While the defense is expected to be better, this offense should continue to evolve into the high flying machine that Kyle Shanahan tends to put together.
Players Worth Drafting: Jerick McKinnon (ADP 28), Pierre Garcon (ADP 71), Jimmy Garoppolo (ADP 104), Marquise Goodwin (ADP 106), George Kittle (ADP 164), Matt Brieda (ADP 186)
Expecting the passing game to be any kind of consistent may be asking a bit too much. While Garoppolo figures to be a very good QB, the stable of receivers isn’t highlighted by any big names, and Jimmy G is just as likely to adopt the Tom Brady method of finding who’s open rather than forcing it to one or two guys. Garcon is a safe bet for consistent targets, but beyond him, there’s no guarantees for season long success.
Deep Sleeper: George Kittle seemed to fade a bit when Garoppolo came into the offense, but a few decent weeks at the end of the season rejuvenated the breakout rumors. With another season in this offense, the young TE is expected to see the bulk of the snaps at the position, and with a passing game orchestrated by Shanahan, we could see a big year at a relatively inexpensive price tag for the 2nd year TE.
22. Jacksonville Jaguars
After turning in a dominant season, riding the strength of it’s rushing game and defense, the Jaguars return in 2018 featuring many of the same strengths and weaknesses. Beyond the obvious stud in Leonard Fournette, this is a team that could warrant it’s own article with all of the moving parts. As always, the Jags figure to surprise in a few more areas this year.
Players Worth Drafting: Leonard Fournette (ADP 11), Marqise Lee (ADP 118), Austin Sefarian-Jenkins (ADP 166)
The list of players being drafted, as noted above, may seem smaller than one would like, but part of the problem is that beyond Lee, the passing game features a handful of guys who have little on their resume. With the mercurial Blake Bortles set to start under center again, it’s always a question of who outside the top guy can he support? I’m a fan of Keelan Cole, if only because he helped me secure a championship, but there’s a lot of middling talent on this team that could be both fantastic or awful.
Deep Sleeper: Austin Sefarian-Jenkins is one of my favorite picks to bounce back this year. After failing spectacularly to cash in on the hype, it was learned he was struggling with some kind of alcohol or drug abuse and he set about getting clean. Recently, he explained that, now sober, he’s in the best place he’s been in years and he’s ready to bring it full circle. I’m willing to give the guy a 2nd chance, as his talent excites me.
21. Tennessee Titans
When the season started last year, many fantasy pundits, myself included, had several Titans queued up as breakout candidates. Unfortunately, despite a playoff birth, most of this teams fantasy studs took a step back, hamstringing teams that relied heavily on players like the recently retired DeMarco Murray and 3rd year QB Marcus Mariota. With a new coaching staff looking to rejuvenate a team with plenty of talent, there’s optimism that this year could be the breakout last year should have ben
Players Worth Drafting: Derrick Henry (ADP 47), Delanie Walker (ADP 63), Dion Lewis (ADP 70), Corey Davis (ADP 77), Rishard Matthews (ADP 140), Marcus Mariotta (ADP 141)
Knowing how much talent Mariota has around him, it’d be a shock to see him continue the trend of regression. Corey Davis is no longer dinged up and Rishard Matthews continues to be an underrated workhorse. Throw in that the coaching staff is now better suited to pull the most out of him and the run game has a two headed monster that’s above average in all aspects of the game, and Mariota is one of the hottest break out commodities in Fantasy.
Deep Sleeper: This team has invested heavily in weapons for Mariota, and none were as successful out of college as 2017 first round pick Corey Davis. Unfortunately for him, the season started off poorly and injuries limited him to just 9 starts and 34 receptions. The talent is certainly there, and a full offseason should work wonders for the teams top receiving threat. While not a traditional “deep” sleeper, his value is a potential top 15 WR is something that can’t be overlooked.
20. Seattle Seahawks
A team in turmoil, the Seahawks had one real bright spot in 2017, and that would be Russell Wilson. There’s no doubting the former 2nd round pick any longer as he’s proven to be one of the leagues top QB’s, both in real life and in fantasy. Where the team lacked any continuity was in the run game. Porous offensive line play combined with a lackluster running back group (Chris Carson not withstanding) led to a season of “run for your life” stats that didn’t translate to success elsewhere. Improved O-line (even if just slightly) and a shiny new convertible in the backfield in Rashaad Penny, and one can be optimistic that there’s some new life in Seattle in 2018.
Players Worth Drafting: Doug Baldwin (ADP 34), Rashaad Penny (ADP 39), Russell wilson (ADP 50), Chris Carson (ADP 167), Tyler Lockett (ADP 170)
Whether you believe Penny is a true three down back or not, the truth is that his handling of 1st and 2nd down should provide some protection from Wilson, who no longer has Jimmy Graham to throw to. Doug Baldwin is the real deal in the slot, and Tyler Lockett has some upside, but this offense may have a handful of late round picks that turn into fantasy gold.
Deep Sleeper: The aforementioned Rashaad Penny is garnering much of the buzz in the backfield, but Chris Carson may offer the best value of any Seattle back. Prior to his injury, he was more effective than anyone else on the roster, and seems to have recovered well from the injury that ended his year. With Pete Carroll promising a return to smash mouth ground and pound football, Carson could be a fine sleeper if Penny isn’t all he’s been advertised (which is always a concern with rookie running backs).
Well folks, it’s July and the fantasy season has crested the horizon. As we prepare to celebrate the day of our independence here in the U.S. it’s also important to note that July is the last month with no NFL football.
Please be sure to remember that here at Dr. Fantasy we ask that you continually adjust your own rankings as the season nears; drafting LeDarius Green as a starting TE only to find out you missed that he was cut only serves to sabotage all the work you’re putting in now. That being said, lets investigate how current ADP data looks for the first three rounds. (PPR ADP data provided by FantasyPros.com)
- Todd Gurley, RB – LAR
- Le’Veon Bell, RB – PIT
- David Johnson, RB – ARI
- Ezekiel Elliott, RB – DAL
- Antonio Brown, WR – PIT
- Alvin Kamara, RB – NO
- DeAndre Hopkins, WR – HOU
- Saquon Barkley, RB – NYG
- Kareem Hunt, RB – KC
- Odell Beckham Jr., WR – NYG
Players I Love: I like most of these guys, but Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham both have the talent and the volume to project higher than some of the guys going ahead of them. Obviously, Barkley doesn’t have a history in the NFL to draw from, but it’s clear that the Giants selection at #4 overall would have been a QB if they didn’t plan on using Barkley as heavily as anyone else.
Players I Hate: Quick disclaimer, I don’t hate any of these players as real life football players. What I hate is the price I have to pay to get one in my league. Alvin Kamara projects as an elite third down option, but expecting him to feature heavily in the run game, or duplicate the 6+ YPC carry mark is asking too much; expect regression.
Likewise, Hunt’s bottom line looked fantastic, and he certainly passed the eyeball test… at times. Still, the inexplicable slide in the middle of the season showed some chinks in his armor, and he’ll have to fend off a returning Spencer Ware for touches; again, expect some regression.
- Melvin Gordon, RB – LAC
- Leonard Fournette, RB – JAC
- Julio Jones, WR – ATL
- Michael Thomas, WR – NO
- Dalvin Cook, RB – MIN
- Keenan Allen, WR – LAC
- Christian McCaffrey, RB – CAR
- Davante Adams, WR – GB
- A.J. Green, WR – CIN
- Mike Evans, WR – TB
Players I love: There’s a lot of value in the 2nd round this year, but Michael Thomas and Davante Adams are two players who could elevate their games into the top 5 at the position. As the top target in two of the best passing offenses in the league, you’d be getting absolute studs in the 2nd round.
Players I Hate: Dalvin Cook was impressive in limited action last year, but a major knee injury derailed a promising season. Now, it seems drafters are expecting him to step back into the three down role and not miss a beat. A 2nd round price tag is way to high for a player who may not be the same following the injury.
Likewise, Mike Evans has plenty of talent, but is stuck playing for a listless Tampa Bay team that’s already is slated to miss it’s QB for the first three games. While it’s a possibility that he comes out firing, the second round isn’t a great place to take such a risk with guys like Thielen and Hill available in the following round.
- Devonta Freeman, RB – ATL
- LeSean McCoy, RB – BUF
- Rob Gronkowski, TE – NE
- Jerick McKinnon, RB – SF
- Joe Mixon, RB – CIN
- Travis Kelce, TE – KC
- Tyreek Hill, WR – KC
- Jordan Howard, RB – CHI
- Adam Thielen, WR – MIN
- Aaron Rodgers, QB – GB
Players I love: When Jerick McKinnon was brought in to replace Carlos Hyde, my eyes lit up. Recent history has shown us how Kyle Shannahan uses his backs, and McKinnon’s ability to play on passing downs could produce a top 5 RB season.
Jordan Howard’s standing in fantasy circles is a strange one as he’s being drafted as the RB16 this year despite rushing for 1,100 yards and 9 TDs last year. In the third round, the lead back in Chicago is a steal, and if reports out of Chicago are true, and they’re trying to improve on his pass catching, he could be a league winner at 28th overall.
Players I hate:
Rob Gronkowski may still go down as the best tight end of all time, but the time is past for you to reach early to get him. As easy as it is to argue he’s the only trustworthy weapon Brady has left, it’s just as easy to argue that the New England offense is going to look strange this year. With a first round pick invested in the run game, and a strange dynamic evolving with coaching staff and quarterback, there’s no telling how inconsistent the game plan will be. He’s a fantasy starter all day, but not worth drafting before Kelce or Ertz.
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.
It’s late in the draft and you’re looking for potential high reward fliers at the running back position. This stratagy is nothing new and you’ve done your research: you’re looking for the next Priest Holmes. We’re going to ignore backs that are the small head in a two headed RB by committee monster; these backs are solid backups that given the chance to start and carry a heavy work load have the goods to be fantasy studs (think C.J. Anderson). Below are 5 backs you may be able to get very late in your draft that could turn into fantasy gold without a lot of risk.
Jerick McKinnon – Solidly behind returning starter Adrian Peterson, McKinnon took some time to hit his stride last year while Peterson was on the shelf, but his freak athletesism had begun to shine through. A shorter, more compact back (5’10” and 210 pounds) McKinnon is agressive but can make you miss in the open field. Although when Peterson is healthy he may not see more than 5-7 touches per week, if Peterson misses any significant time (he is 30 and coming off of a severe injury) McKinnon immediately becomes a RB2.
Knile Davis – Another back sitting behind an incumbent RB1, Davis is a bruiser whose surprising burst makes for a good plus yardage back when given enough opportunity. Charles is a safe bet to miss some time, and Davis is poised to make good on
Andre Williams – It’s a good bet that Williams sees some time on the field this year regardless of if Rashad Jennings misses any time. Although Williams had a hard time with tearing off big runs, it’s not surprising given his skill set is more to bash the football down your throat. At 230 pounds, he’s a red zone beast, and his 7 touchdowns in limited time (217 touches) was a revelation. Given regular time, he’ll put up solid numbers between the 20’s but the red zone prowess is where he’ll excel.
Matt Jones – Alfred Morris has done little to impress since his breakout year in 2012. He’s a solid yet unspectacular back who runs well between the tackles and finds pay dirt regularly. Still, the Redskins invested a third round pick in Matt Jones from Florida, a big physical runner who’s burst and open field skills are unusual for a man his size (6’2, 230lbs). If Morris finds himself on the bench or IR for any length of time, Matt Jones could run away with the job; literally. In this crop of excellent rookie RB’s, Jones may be overlooked and fall deep into drafts.
Cameron Artis-Payne – Artis-Paynce is a name that’s beginning to pop up on sleeper lists left and right, and rightfully so. In a Carolina backfield that features exciting if not made-of-glass RB Jonathan Stewart, it’s suggested that Artis-Payne would see the bulk of the carries if an injury occured. He isn’t a home run hitter, he’s a between the tackles runner, but has a much better 3 down skill set than Whitaker, and could make the most of it for a Carolina team that will run the ball a lot