While the QB signings have dominated the landscape, the largest amount of quality transactions belongs to the wide receiver position. There were several high profile players changing teams, so buckle up while we take a quick look at the most impactful.
Los Angeles Rams Aquire Brandin Cooks
By now you’ve probably heard some of the absurd statistics surrounding the Rams new wideout. For example, only he and Antonio Brown have had 1,000+ yards and 7TDs for three straight years. What’s even more impressive is that he’s done it as a part of the Saints and Patriots offenses who often eschew consistency in favor of game planning.
Now in LA, he’ll be playing for a coach in Sean McVay that has a history of targetting his home run hitters a ton. In 2014 and 2016, McVay’s game plan included an average of 100+ targets for DeSean Jackson, a similar player to Cooks, while still maintaining a healthy number of targets for other receivers. This means that where Sammy Watkins failed, Cooks could florish. Garish numbers may be a pipe dream, but the ceiling for Cooks in LA could be considered the 60-70 catch and 1200 yards range.
Cleveland Browns Sign Jarvis Landry
Cleveland seems to be going all in this offseason, bringing in studs like last years receptions leader Jarvis Landry. Averaging 100 catches per year over his 4 year career in Miami, Landry brings crisp route running and a knack for making difficult catches to a team that feature an elite #1 in Josh Gordon, but not much besides question marks beyond him.
While it may be a bit of a stretch to expect another 100+ receptions this year, Landry somehow finds a way to be important every week. He’ll need to do better than last years 8.8 yards per catch if he wants to be more than just a PPR target, but Cleveland could see him finally turn into the elite WR he’d been billed as previously.
Baltimore Ravens Sign Michael Crabtree
One of the NFL’s most underrated receivers, Michael Crabtree seems to be the perfect fit for one of the most underrated NFL teams, the Baltimore Ravens. While they certainly weren’t good last year, part of the problem was Flacco’s receiving corps consisted of aging veterans, oft injured disappointments, and draft busts. Crabtree is a grinder who manages to get to footballs that others may not.
While it certainly took a few years for Crabtree to live up to the draft hype he experienced in San Fansisco, Baltimore could be a make or break stop on his NFL journey. As the defacto #1 in this offense, and the strong armed Joe Flacco still hucking it up, it could be a big year for him. Unless Baltimore adds a significant receiving piece, I expect 120+ targets for Crabtree, and the rest is up to him.
Oakland Raiders Sign Jordy Nelson
It wasn’t long ago that Nelson was considered one of the top 5 wideouts in the league. One major injury after another derailed his career and saw him jettisoned from one of the top offenses in football. Queue the free agency period, and Nelson finds himself playing for the Raiders opposite one of the leagues most mercurial slot receivers in Amari Cooper.
What Nelson brings is a red zone threat with reliable hands and the experience to get open and make plays. He won’t wow you with speed, but he’ll be as effective as Crabtree at his worst, or he could excede expectations entirely and see his numbers bounce back to the 1,000 yards and 8 TD range.
New England Patriots Sign Jordan Matthews
On the surface this may not qualify as an earth shattering signing by any stretch, but the truth is that between the departing Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola, not to mention pass catching back Dion Lewis, there’s 235 targets up for grabs and no guarantee that Gronkowksi will be back next year. With so much opportunity and an offense that has always passed first, Matthews could be in line for a monster stat line if he can mesh with Brady early.
But what can we reasonably expect from Matthews, who toiled with injuries in 2017 that made for a disappointing year one in Buffalo? The saving grace is he’s never played with a quarterback like Brady. If he can make the roster (which is no safe bet with New England) then I expect something along the lines of his numbers in Philly, around 70 catches, 900 yards and 6-9 TDs.
Chicago Bears Sign Allen Robinson
It may not be the highest profile reciever gig in the NFL, but there’s something to be said about swapping one team for one similarly constructed. They both feature a run first scheme and young, unpredictable quarterbacks. What Robinson has going for him in Chicago is that aside his main competition is a hobbled Kevin White and Atlanta’s #3 guy Taylor Gabriel.
It’s natural for a young QB to latch onto his most talented receiver and Robinson certainly checks off all the boxes for a franchise #1 wide receiver. With plenty of targets up for grabs, and gobs more talent than Meredith or Wright brought to the table, a top 5 season in targets sets Robinson up nicely. Sure, he’ll have to do something with those targets, but his floor is relatively high compared to others on this list.
Honorable Mentions: The Dolphins losing Jarvis Landry forced them to go out and sign two slot receivers in Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson, with ‘Dola being the more accomplished by far. Injuries will always be a concern with Amendola, but sliding in to the role vacated by the aformentioned Landry should give him plenty of fantasy relevence. Sammy Watkins on the other hand, joins a Chiefs offense that is going to transition from a veteran in Alex Smith, to a 2nd year quarter back in Patrick Mahomes. It’s not an unlikely scenario to see Watkins become a saftey blanket for the young QB, especially given Tyreek Hill’s boom or bust profile, but the truth is the offense is likely to go through the backfield.
While I’ve certainly been a detractor of the ZeroRB strategy, I certainly see the value in loading up on elite talent and a well put together strategy can reward any owner regardless of how they feel.
I’ve been a mocking fool lately (one of my favorite parts of the fantasy football process is the mock season during the run up to the our actual drafts) and I decided I would take some time and really try to hammer out a solid ZeroRB strategy to share with you.
Before we discuss how my draft shook out, lets revisit the cardinal rules when adopting a ZeroRB strategy. It’s important to load up on top teir wideouts early in drafts; I suggest not swinging at a QB or TE in the first 3 or 4 rounds unless one of the elite guys falls to you. Once you’ve filled out your starters at WR, QB, and TE is when you throw a whole lot of heat at the RB position in the middle rounds.
I used the fantastic Draft Wizard at Fantasypros.com to set up the draft to my preferences, and I started by opting for a straight PPR format with one RB/WR/TE flex position. Standard scoring and 6 bench spots made up the rest of the rules. Randomizing the draft spot I ended up drafting 8th.
- Round 1. Mike Evans (WR5) – Evans is a stud, but in the first round you get what you pay for.
- Round 2. Jordy Nelson (WR7) – Nelson could easily finish as a top 3 WR, not bad for a 2nd round pick.
- Round 3. Demaryius Thomas (WR15) – This one was a bit of a stretch, but with a big run on WR’s in round 3, I had to decide if I wanted Thomas, Alshon Jeffrey, or Jarvis Landry.
- Round 4. Tom Brady (QB2) – Brady fell to me in round 4 and I felt comfortable with the remaining RB pool to push off my first RB selection to add an elite QB.
- Round 5. Carlos Hyde (RB17) – For my first RB I grabbed the boring but effective Hyde. Despite the rumblings that Hyde may not be a fit in Shanahan’s offense, at 26 he presents a safe floor in round 5.
- Round 6. C. J. Anderson (RB19) – For my money, Anderson offers the closest thing to a top 10 RB of the remaining backs. Dalvin Cook was available but throwing a rookie in as my 2nd RB scares me.
- Round 7. Bilal Powell (RB22) – Drafting Powell in standard leagues is nerve racking, but in PPR (with his ability to catch the football) he’s one of the safer committee backs.
- Round 8. Eddy Lacy (RB25) – I’ll admit it, this one is a crap shoot. Lacy has turned in two fantastic seasons and two awful ones… which back will show up in Seattle this year? I hope it’s the former.
- Round 9. Frank Gore (RB35) – I don’t think Gore will ever get the respect he deserves, and in the 9th round I’m giddy that a starting RB on a high scoring offense is still available.
- Round 10. Zach Ertz (TE10) – Ertz still has some proving to do but his skill set and place in the Eagles offense makes him a safe pick in the 10th round as the tenth TE drafted.
- Round 11. Jordan Matthews (WR 45) – Adding an impact player in the 11th is difficult, and with Decker and Rishard Matthews as the the next highest ranked WRs it was a no brainer to add Matthews and his 100+ targets.
- Round 12. Mike Wallace (WR 49) – This is Baltimore’s Mike Wallace, where I consider him a flier after major offensive shakeups leaves hundres of targets up for grabs (even AFTER adding Jeremy Maclin in the off season).
- Round 13. Tyrod Taylor (QB 18) – I could have gone with Blake Bortles here, but Taylor put up top 10 QB numbers for a good portion of the year and I’m not keen on starting Tom Brady without some kind of backup plan in case the 40 year old struggles or goes down to injury.
Overall, the draft went pretty much as planned. I could have Greg Olsen or Jimmy Graham in the 5th round and started my run on RB’s a round later, but that would have left me exchanging a player like Carlos Hyde for someone like Samaje Perine or Jamaal Williams, two players I like but who are no lock to play meaningful snaps.
- QB – Tom Brady
- RB1 – Carlos Hyde
- RB2 – C.J. Anderson
- WR1 – Mike Evans
- WR2 – Jordy Nelson
- WR3 – Demaryius Thomas
- TE – Zach Ertz
- Flex – Bilal Powell (RB)
- D/ST – Houston Texans
- K – Sebastian Janikowski
- Bench – Eddie Lacy (RB)
- Bench – Frank Gore (RB)
- Bench – Jordan Matthews (WR)
- Bench – Mike Wallace (WR)
- Bench – Tyrod Taylor (QB)
Below is a list of the top 10 teams in terms of total offensive plays in 2014.
- Philadelphia Eagles (1,127 plays)
- Indianapolis Colts (1,105)
- New Orleans Saints (1,095)
- New York Giants (1,086)
- New England Patriots (1,073)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (1,068)
- Denver Broncos (1,067)
- Houston Texans (1,062)
- Carolina Panthers (1,060)
- New York Jets (1,052)
What’s important to understand is that this merely a baseline to understand how often a team puts its offensive players in position to score fantasy points. The uptempo offenses in Philly and Indianapolis enabled them to run 70.4 and 69.1 plays per game; this means players who line up in large percentage of their teams offensive snaps have a greater ability to procure fantasy points. This would seem rather obvious, but is important to note nontheless. Below is a list of the top 10 players ranked by participation percentage (using snap count statistics gathered at Sportingcharts.com)
- Torrey Smith* (1,098 total snaps, 96.7% of team snaps)
- Jordy Nelson (1,083, 96.5%)
- Dez Bryant (935, 93.7%)
- Vincent Jackson (969, 93.5%)
- Brandon Marshall* (988, 93.4%)
- A.J. Green (1,056, 93.3%)
- Mike Wallace* (951, 92.6%)
- Larry Fitzgerald (998, 92.1%)
- Demaryius Thomas (1,106, 91.6%)
- Alshon Jeffery (963, 91.0%)
*players have changed teams
What can be gained from these statistics? Well for starters, you can infer based on usage that a player like Kevin White in Chicago is in for a large number of snaps as Brandon Marshall vacates the roster. The same for Kenny Stills in Miami as the new top target for Ryan Tannehill in place of Mike Wallace. It certainly appears that Chicago uses their two top targets an awful lot, running them out for more than 90% of their snaps on offense. You could also argue that Vincent Jackson and Larry Fitzgerald are both heavy target receivers with a better QB outlook this year, and if the numbers are consistent could be in for a bump in usage.
A few surprises on this list would be players who were used far less than surface stats indicated in 2014.
TY Hilton only saw usage on 71% of Indianapolis’ offensive snaps. A number that if rising could mean enormous stats for the possession beast. Doug Baldwin as the top target in Seattle only saw 74% of the snaps, proving again that Seattle doesn’t trust its passing game, this is likely an indication of Baldwins value in the future. Houston, one of the leagues leaders in terms of total offensive snaps, had both the departed Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins in the 88% range, this could mean a huge uptick in Hopkins usage considering the lack of weapons behind him.
Like anything, it’s important to view these kinds of statistics as secondary, I’m not suggesting that Vincent Jackson should be ranked even close to Antonio Brown (4% less usage), but it’s fair to say that he’ll have far more opportunity then someone like Michael Floyd in Arizona who sees the field less than 85% of their offensive snaps.
Ryan Tannehill quietly put together a borderline top 10 QB season, and Lamar Miller proved he could run the football with some consistency and catch it on occasion in the passing game. The receivers on this team are young and talented, with high volume option in Jarvis Landry and burners in Kenny Stills and Rishard Matthews. Adding Jordan Cameron only makes it harder for defenses to match up when they want to spread you out. Worth Drafting: Ryan Tannehill will likely be valued lower than he should be, as a later QB1 he’s worth it. Lamar Miller may have some competition later in the year from the uber talented Jay Ajayi, expect him to be a workhorse if healthy. Landry should be a good bet for 70+ catches, and Stills could be a weapon for Tannehill over the top. Jordan Cameron, if healthy, will step in and replace Charles Clay’s production very well.
11. San Diego Chargers
Philip Rivers manages every year to put together a top 10 QB season, and expect this year to be no different. Keenan Allen and Malcom Floyd should still see the bulk of the passes, new addition Stevie Johnson has a lot to prove and could be a nice late round WR addition. Despite Ledarius Green’s presence, Antonio Gates went out and killed it last year, and I’ll never again doubt the big mans ability or drive. Worth Drafting: Philip Rivers as always falls just shy of the NFL elite, but is a solid QB if you miss out on the top teir guys. Keenan Allen has the tools to be a WR1 and Michael Floyd will still stretch the field a bit (16.5 YPC last year). Stevie Johnson is a risk/reward player as his pedigree may trick owners into jumping early. Antonio Gates should be himself again this year, and I would caution against Ladarius Green fans against expecting any real fantasy value unless Gates gets hurt. Melvin Gordon could be this years highest scoring rookie… don’t be afraid to draft.
10. Chicago Bears
I know what you’re thinking, “the Bears in the top 10?” They may not be a top 10 NFL team, but we’re talking in terms of fantasy contributions. Jay Cutler may be inconsistent, as is evidenced by his second half slide, but he still has plenty of tools and a big arm. Alshon Jeffery will have an uptick in attempts as Cutler has shown a propensity to seak out his top target despite double teams. Matt Forte is a top 10 RB and top 3 in PPR formats, and Martellus Bennet moves into the top 3 conversation at TE thanks to Jimmy Grahams change of scenery. Worth Drafting: I was high on Jay Cutler last year, and this hasn’t changed. If you look at his first 5 or 6 weeks last year, he had some pretty good numbers that would have been even better if he didn’t turn the ball over. Kevin White is an unknown quantity but he should replace Marshall in the long run with the same kind of build. Jeffry should be a top 10WR and Bennett is a top 3 TE.
9. Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan did the best he could with the rash of injuries that clipped the Falcons wings last year, but a healthy squad will make a world of difference. Ryan is a top 10 QB even without his top two targets healthy. Tevin Coleman could push Devonta Freeman but both are talented and whoever makes it out of camp as the #1 should see above average RB numbers. Roddy White is still an every week start even with the top 3 WR in Julio Jones across from him. They have question marks at TE as Toilolo Levine led their active TE’s with 62 points last year (in 1pt PPR). Worth Drafting: Matt Ryan had a few brutal weeks and still managed a top 10 finish, he’ll have a better grasp on this offense and health not withstanding should be a top 10 QB this year as well. Julio Jones has the talent to finish #1, and he’ll likely go in the first 15 picks. Roddy White gets over looked more every year but he’s still a top 20 WR. The real question is Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman? I think it’ll be a battle in camp, and both guys should have some fantasy relevance come week 1.
8. New York Giants
The world was against the Giants after a brutal season prior, but Eli Manning still finished top 10 at QB, and Odell Beckham emerged as a top WR threat. With the return of Victor Cruz this offense could have two scary weapons for Eli to use. Rashad Jennings may be a little older than the other top RB’s, but he still averaged 10-11 points per week (depending on your scoring system). Larry Donnell put together an admirable season and the Giants like to use TE’s in the passing game. Worth Drafting: Eli is a safe bet to out perform his numbers last year if he has a healthy WR corps. Beckham will likely be drafted incredibly early, but with Cruz back, he’ll be hard pressed to repeat his second half numbers. Rueben Randle is the real steal here, as his value takes a huge hit with two studs in front of him, but in a passing offense, he should out perform his ADP. Rashad Jennings was fine when he played, but grab Andre Williams late as a handcuff if you need to use Jennings as a RB 1 or 2.
7. Detroit Lions
I hate to say that Matthew Stafford is overrated, because I think he’s an entertaining gun slinger in the Brett Favre mold, but his terrible efficiency actually lowers his ceiling despite as often as he throws the football. That being said, he has two elite WR’s in Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. Either one can carry the torch if the other isn’t performing. At TE, they have two question marks: is Brandon Pettigrew capable of being used in the passing game and can Eric Ebron be healthy enough to contribute. I think Ebron is the TE the Lions would rather emerge. Joique Bell got a lot of touches last year, but averaged under 4 YPC. His value lies in the passing game, but the Lions served notice in drafting what they think is a 3 down back in Ameer Abdullah. A great talent, he should push Bell for touches early and often. Worth Drafting: Matt Stafford at the right price has enough volume to contribute but he’ll drive you crazy. Calvin Johnson slipping down the ranks only helps the owner who gets him, he’s still the best in the game in my opinion. Golden Tate is a solid second option, and a good one two punch in Bell and Abdullah in the backfield make this a formidable offense. Ebron is the TE to look at with a much higher ceiling.
6. Seattle Seahawks
The beautiful thing about this offense is that it’s predictable and consistent. Russell Wilson will beat you through the air or on the ground, and his ability to run at the right time means he’ll get you a ton of points that other QB’s won’t. Marshawn Lynch is a workhorse unlike any in the league. He’ll touch the ball with greater consistency and efficiency than anyone else. The homeruns aren’t always there, but 4-5YPC and double digit touchdowns make him my #1 back. Doug Baldwin has proven to be a solid #1 for a team that doesn’t throw it that much, his value will reflect that. Beyond him, Jimmy Graham should give Wilson a redzone threat, but no one else is more than a flier. Worth Drafting: This team features three top 5 position options. Russell Wilson ran for 850 yards last year… he’s in my top 3 for QBs. Marshawn Lynch may not have as many 30+ point weeks as a Le’Veon Bell, but his unparralleled consistency (12 weeks above RB average) make him my #1, and Jimmy Graham will likely be the #1 option inside the 20 plus just a tick behind Baldwin elsewhere. Draft all three confidently. Doug Baldwin is a safe WR if he’s available after the top options are off the board.
5. Dallas Cowboys
My value of the Dallas Cowboys is contingent on the offensive line. Darren McFadden’s ability hasn’t been his big question, it’s been his health. If he can stay on the field he’ll benifit greatly from the O-Line that helped DeMarco Murray lead the league in rushing last year. Dez Bryant and Tony Romo have a special connection, allowing both to creep towards the top 5 in their catagories. Cole Beasley should be a good value pick in PPR leagues, and Jason Witten is ageless and productive. Worth Drafting: At their relative ADP’s I’d say nearly all of the offensive weapons are worth a look. Bryant, Romo and McFadden all three will be drafted in the first 4 or 5 rounds. Witten, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley all have a good chance to produce weekly for this team as well.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Who knew Le’Veon Bell would bounce back from a tough rookie year to lead the league in fantasy scoring? We knew he’d be good, but it gave the offense the freedom to throw different looks at the defense. They were rewarded with a career year by Roethlisburger and the emergency of Antonio Brown as a top WR office. Marcus Wheaton will put up solid WR fantasy stats as well, and Heath Miller, although no longer Elite, still has some gas in the tank. Worth Drafting: Ben Roethlisberger may not finish with the totals he had last year, but he’s a good bet to finish at or near a top 5 QB. Le’Veon Bell is going to miss a few games to start the year, but it’s clear he’s the focal point of that offense and he’s young enough to eat up 300+ touches and is a beast in PPR. Antonio Brown is the Marshawn Lynch of the receiving game. Quietly posting 300 or so points in PPR leagues and nearly 15-20 points every week. Bell and Brown are likely first or 2nd round picks. Don’t sleep on Miller either as there is really only 5 or 6 elite TE’s on the board, and after you’re looking at either consistency (miller) or home run weeks.
3. Denver Broncos
This wouldn’t change if Peyton Manning was 50 years old, and that’s because they finally found their RB to compliment their lethal passing game. Peyton is a general, and will use his elite weapons liberaly, and will make mediocre talents look even better. Julius Thomas is gone but anyone that can run routes will look solid in this offense. CJ Anderson as a 3 down back compliments Manning in ways Montee Ball never could, averaging 180+ points in PPR formats over the final 7 weeks (on par with Le’Veon Bell). Worth Drafting: Manning may be falling behind his contemporaries a bit but should still finish in the top 5. Demaryius Thomas looks to be a top 2 WR with Emmanuel Sanders not far behind. CJ Anderson is a bit of an unknown quantity but even if he’s only a quarter of the back he was over the last 7 weeks, he’ll be a top 10 back. Not sure about Virgil Green, but I think we said the same thing about Julius Thomas a few years ago, and Manning turned him into a top option.
2. Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy… do I need to say more? A high powered offense with consistency and familiarity unlike any squad in the league, they could break records if the schedule shakes out for them. They play through the air, and on the ground, but they give everyone their due which is rare for a team with as many options. Worth Drafting: Aaron Rodgers may have been supplanted by Andrew Luck, but he hasn’t fallen far. All four of the players above will be gone in the first 3 or so rounds, which is scary for opposing defenses. Andrew Quarless is the other player to target, but they’ve never been a heavy TE use team.
1. Indianapolis Colts
AFC Championship withstanding, this is the most outstanding offense in football. A team that is often in shootouts, Indy has a quarterback to compete with them all. Adding Andre Johnson, Frank Gore, and Phillip Dorsett through the draft makes this offense even better than last year. Luck could (and I’d argue should) crest 5k yards and 50 TD’s, contributing to TY Hilton’s continued emergence as a 2nd round WR. Frank Gore has proven he can play forever, and in this Indy offense should contribute on the ground and in the air, and Andre Johnson may have lost a step but as a route runner, the dangerously accurate Luck should have no problem finding him in the soft spots of the defense. Worth Drafting: Andrew Luck will finish the year as the highest scoring player in football, draft him in the first round if you want him, he’s that good. TY Hilton and Andre Johnson should both have 70-80 Receptions with 1100 plus yards, although I expect Johnson to be the bigger red zone threat and higher ADP. Frank Gore may not be a top 5 or even top 10 RB, but expect some huge weeks from the old dog as he will be highighted in the passing game. Even Dwayne Allen, for all his deficiencies, should finish inside the top 10 of the TE ranks.
If you have a problem with any of these rankings, I say good, because debating and conversation is the best way to explain why we feel the way we feel. Tell me where I’m wrong, and who is your Fantasy Elite?