We’re going to take a little different approach to the Committee Report this year. Instead of one giant article covering each team, we’re going to do a Monday Committee Report that focuses on a different NFL team expected to employee a Running Back By Committee approach in 2019.
Miami may not be the first team on your “backfields to avoid” list, but with the addition of former Patriots coaches Brian Flores at Head Coach and Chad O’Shea at Offensive Coordinator, things could get muddled really quickly. Even with the departure of Frank Gore, this backfield features several players with the type of on-the-field skill that leads to a clear split in carries and targets.
Atop the depth chart is Kenyan Drake, a classic boom or bust running back who’s highlight reels often make owners forget about when he disappears for games at a time. It could have been a function of Adam Gase’s offense and the ineptitude at QB in the past, but Drakes history as a part time runner leaves a lot of question marks. Can he handle 200+ touches? Does he have the kind of consistency that elevates him above the Jay Ajayi’s of the world (who’s big games act as fools gold to trick you into accepting too many weak outputs)? Can he keep Ballage off the field?
That last question may be the most important one, as Ballage was expected to eat into the passing downs after being drafted in the fourth round last year. Big, fast, and with sure hands, Ballage could be the kind of weapon a Patriots coach would love to employ in certain instances. While I don’t expect Ballage to steal too many carries from Drake, he may eat into the targets Drake assumed last year.
My gut is telling me, though, it may be wiser to expect both players to be useful in 2019. With O’Shea likely morphing a version of Josh McDaniels offense, Ballage and Drake may be best suited on the field together. I don’t expect 70+ targets for Drake again this year, I DO expect him to be used more heavily in the red zone than Ballage. In Standard leagues, Drake is easily the only back worth drafting in normal snakes formats, but PPR may allow for a flier on Ballage. Don’t over draft either player, but expect Miami to use both of these backs a good deal more than Gase did in years past.
Kenyan Drake, 170 Attempts, 715 Rushing Yards, 50 Receptions, 475 Receiving Yards, 9 Total TDs.
Kalen Ballage, 145 Attempts, 665 Rushing Yards, 18 Receptions, 145 Receiving Yards, 2 Total TDs.
We’ve been pounding the Devante Parker drum pretty loudly in the debate between Parker or Stills, but overlooked in all of this is that someone is going to play in the slot, and its not likely to be either of those players. Albert Wilson was our early favorite to absorb a lot of the targets Landry vacated from that position, especially given the contract he was handed in the off season (3 years, 24 million). Now, it’s looking like that may not be the case.
In a recent article by Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, there are signs that Albert Wilson isn’t getting the kind of attention with the starters that many of us expected he would. Currently, Danny Amendola has been playing with the team’s ones in the slot, adding fuel to the fire that he may somehow usurp the starting gig from Wilson.
How Miami intends to use it’s 4 wide outs remains a mystery, and with the money they handed out for both guys, it’s an interesting camp battle to watch. While we still think Wilson is the guy to target late in drafts, don’t sleep on Amendola as a potential break out.
Whoever wins that job out of camp is in line for 100+ targets, and that’s nothing to sneeze at as late as both guys are going.
Every year we examine the NFL’s most volatile committees in hopes that we can navigate the potential mine field and find the guys that will eventually rise to the top. Of course, this is one of those articles that must be taken with a grain of salt as many of these turn out to be black holes for fantasy contributors, but if you’re stuck drafting from a committee, this should help you decide where to turn.
New England Patriots
It wouldn’t be a committee report without the Patriots firmly at the top of the list. Of course, this year it’s a different look as the Pats selected Sony Michel in the first round (something the Patriots mostly never do). Also present on the roster are pass catching specialist James White, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillisleee, and Jeremy Hill.
Current ADP rankings show that Pats backs are being selected in this order: Sony Michel (52nd), Rex Burkhead (81st), James White (148th), Jeremy Hill (204th), Mike Gillislee (UN).
The best value may belong to James White in the 15th round. With his 90 targets last year, his value is equal to that of a decent WR3, yet he’s being selected in the “flier rounds” as teams look to fill in the bottom of their benches. Burkhead has shown promise before, but his role is so undefined that I’m loath to put a pick towards him in the 9th round.
This is the kind of committee that won’t be resolved at all this year, so over paying for a back like Sony Michel could be a sure fire way to torpedo your draft. I won’t suggest he won’t be valuable in fantasy terms, but understanding how the Patriots operate leads me to believe that ball control and inexperience should prohibit him from turning in a top 20 season in 2018.
Another team that’s been devoid of a true number one for a decade or more, the Lions did little to clear up it’s perennial committee by signing LeGarette Blount and drafting Kerryon Johnson to further muddy the future. With Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah still floating around, it’s going to be difficult for anyone to separate themselves from the pack in this backfield.
Current ADP draft data shows the following selection information: Kerryon Johnson (78th), LeGarette Blount (111th), Ameer Abdullah (114th), Theo Riddick (UN)
What concerns me is that Detroit has typically been a pass first team, and I don’t expect them to pound the ball with any great frequency this year either. The last time a Lions team had more than 400 attempts as a team was in 2014, and Reggie Bush and Joique Bell had about a 60/40 split.
Considering the consistency of this committee, expecting anything more than 200 carries for either Johnson or Blount is a pipe dream. My prediction is that Blount leads the team in carries with around 170, while Johnson sees 150 and Riddick/Abdullah/Zenner combine for around 30. If Riddick wasn’t as capable a passing down back, one could make an argument for Johnson to contribute in other ways, but as currently constituted, I’m not touching this backfield.
In typical Cleveland fashion, the Browns front office drafted Nick Chubb despite the hefty contract handed out in free agency to Carlos Hyde. Already on the roster is pass catching back Duke Johnson, who figures to remain involved as well. So what does this mean for the fantasy prospects of each back above? It means we have no real idea.
Here is the ADP data for the Cleveland backfield: Carlos Hyde (68th), Nick Chubb (93rd), Duke Johnson (123rd).
The ADP values above represent how difficult it is to value these Cleveland running backs. Of course, part of the problem is that the fantasy community is so in love with rookie running backs that it’s ignoring how much value Carlos Hyde has as a starter. Chubb, on the other hand, doesn’t factor into the passing game, and his draft profile suggests that a lack of game breaking skills and inability to break tackles makes him a distant second in terms of attempts.
What this does mean, is that Carlos Hyde is being seriously undervalued in the 7th round. Of the teams roughly 380 carries, I expect him to handle 240 or so, with Chubb and Johnson splitting the remaining 140. The passing game should shift mostly to Johnson, but don’t discount Hyde’s ability to play in the passing game either; he should have a healthy number of targets, even if Duke Johnson leads the way in the category.
The Dolphins don’t want to be a committee, but this time every year we seem to have the same conversation. Is the guy they picked really the guy to draft? Kenyan Drake had a nice little run at the end of the season, getting three games in with more than 15 rushes and a healthy dose of targets in the passing game. Unfortunately for him, the team brought in veteran Frank Gore and rookie Kalen Ballage to make his RB2 status look worse and worse by the day.
The draft values for these guys look as follows: Kenyan Drake (45th), Kalen Ballage (172), and Frank Gore (177th).
You may think, looking at those numbers, that Drake is a safe bet, but in my gut it feels that these two other backs are here for a reason. With no real track record prior to week 12, the success he had may be no more than a mirage. With two games against Buffalo, a game against New England, and one against Denver, it seems he may have benefited from mediocre opponents. Gore should be given a healthy portion of touches; just enough to hurt Drake’s prospects but not enough to make him draftable.
The more intriguing guy is Kalen Ballage. Miami has enjoyed using it’s backs in the passing game for years and while many of Jarvis Landry’s targets should go to Parker/Amendola/Stills, he stands out as the most capable pass catcher of the trio. If he can pass block, and it sounds like he won’t have a problem, he could see a larger time share than we expect. At 45th overall, I’m not touching Drake without some kind of assurance from HC Adam Gase on his usage. At this point, I’m willing to take a flyer on Ballage, but not much more.
Green Bay Packers
This is a pass first team, so trying to target the running back to own is like trying to decide which warm bottle of water to take quench your thirst with. It’s been years now since Eddie Lacy was a top tier fantasy back, and every year someone else has inhabited the collective minds of fantasy football, and every year we seem to be wrong. Last year it was Ty Montgomery who was the draft season darling; I cautioned you against using a high pick on him. He proved me right.
This year, it’s Jamal Williams who has the “inside track” to the bulk of the carries, but what does that even mean in this offense?
Here are the draft positions for this particular backfield: Jamaal Williams (87th), Aaron Jones (91st), Ty Montgomery (101nd).
Green Bay, not surprisingly, doesn’t run the ball as often as it’s opponents. Of it’s 386 attempts, only 326 of them went to the running backs groups. Ty Montgomery isn’t likely to have more than 40-60 attempts, but that still only leaves around 250-275 rushes for two backs that had, at one point in 2017, held the starter role for this team.
While Williams will have the first stab at the job thanks to Aaron Jones’ suspension, it’s important to note that he was uninspiring with the touches he did get. His 556 yards on 153 carries was good for an underwhelming 3.6 yards per carry. While it was in a smaller sample size, Aaron Jones 5.5 yards per carry looked a lot better from a fantasy perspective.
Drafting any of these backs is a crap shoot, but my breakdown is thus: target Montgomery as a late round flier in PPR leagues, and target Jones in the 9-11th round as a stash. His 2 game suspension shouldn’t prohibit him from wining the job as he was the best suited for 3 downs last year.
The Eagles haven’t had a legit lead back since it shipped LeSean McCoy out years ago during the Chip Kelley debacle. Instead, they’ve been one of the most predictable committees in the NFL. Since McCoy’s final season in Philly (2014), the highest attempts total was DeMarco Murray’s 193 the season after. Since then, it’s been names like Ryan Matthews and LeGarrette Blount leading the committee.
While it’s unlikely to change dramatically in 2018, the addition of Jay Ajayi may clear things up a little bit. We do expect Darren Sproles to handle a lot of the passing downs when healthy, but of the remaining backs, Ajayi represents the teams best chance at stability with Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood not profiling as a three down back.
A quick at the draft positions for these backs looks like this: Jay Ajayi (32nd), Corey Clement (114th), Darren Sproles (UN)
Still, expecting Ajayi to have 200+ carries is a bit optimistic. It’s hard to qualify head coach Doug Pederson’s track record with running backs because Jamal Charles was hurt every year but one when he was the OC in Kansas City, but when he played, the Chiefs gave the football to Charles a lot. Could that be a sign of things to come with Ajayi representing the best talent he’s had to work with in Philly?
I’d argue at his current draft position, Ajayi is far more stable than some of the rookie backs ahead of him. I don’t expect an RB1 finish, but he’s a solid candidate for RB2 numbers. Likewise, I’m not touching Clement unless it’s as a cuff in deep leagues. Sproles offers a little value in PPR formats, but his health and age don’t inspire confidence that he’ll finish the year healthy.
The Big Finish
While these backs will cost you far less draft capital than some of their contemporaries, it’s important to stay grounded. Overvaluing players because of the research your doing now can cost you big time if you hold on to them too long. These are the perfect players to throw darts at because you can drop them pretty quick. As always, adjust your rankings accordingly (maybe with a few of these guys highlighted), and happy drafting!
32. New York Jets
It’s low hanging fruit to bash on the listless Jets, but the relative lack of fantasy fire power is hardly a surprise to anyone. Aside from deep sleeper lists and waiver wire conquests, the Jets boast a roster devoid of much except late round fliers.
Worth Drafting: Isaiah Crowell (ADP 102), Robby Anderson (ADP 104), Bilal Powell (ADP 169)
While none of these players should be selected with anything but serious flyer considerations, Powell may offer the most upside in PPR leagues only. Crowell, on the other hand, doesn’t project to work much with the passing game, so it all depends on how you think he’ll be used. I expect this team to pass a lot, similar to how last years team found themselves training early. Anderson could out perform the 11th round price tag, but I expect Quincy Enunwa (undrafted in ESPN leagues at this point) to return to some relevance in terms of offensive workload. Every target he steals from Anderson is a massive hit to his fantasy value.
Deep Sleeper: While Sam Darnold has his work cut out for him behind both Bridgewater and McCown in front of him, it’s only natural that the best QB of the bunch get some consideration. He probably won’t play, but in dynasty leagues he’s worth a late round pick, and as waiver wire fodder he should be on your radar until the team finally names it’s starter.
31. Buffalo Bills
This could be even worse, pending the fallout from LeSean McCoy’s domestic violence accusations. Even if he remains on the team, though, I expect a decline across the board as this team is littered with youth and raw future talents. With the pending media firestorm, I’m out on Buffalo unless it’s dealt with sooner than later.
Worth Drafting: LeSean McCoy (ADP 17), Kelvin Benjamin (ADP 91), Charles Clay (ADP 145)
Obviously McCoy’s inclusion on this is difficult, as the ADP data hasn’t caught up to the fall I’m expecting. If he’s found guilty, he’ll be gone from the league post haste, making this team even worse. Unfortunately for Benjamin and Clay, the prospects working with AJ McCarron and Josh Allen are nebulous at best. While Taylor didn’t have as massive a year statistically as we expected last year, this team should struggle to find consistency.
Deep Sleeper: Zay Jones’ rookie year was a disappointment to those, like me, who had him pegged as a high end rookie option. His 10 starts only yielded 27 receptions and 316 yards; not good enough. Still, the talent is there, and Jones is a downfield threat who may work well with Allen’s monster arm. It’s a long shot, and a player I only look at in the deepest of drafts, but Jones could be a contributor by the end of the season.
30. Baltimore Ravens
A common theme among the teams named to this point are the potential quarterback controversies. While I fully expect Flacco to start when healthy, it’s important to note that Lamar Jackson has the potential to unseat Flacco, especially if he’s awful again this year. To combat that, the Ravens brought in free agent receivers Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead, so expect a bit of an uptick in Baltimore’s overall numbers.
Worth Drafting: Alex Collins (ADP 53), Michael Crabtree (ADP 72), Kenneth Dixon (ADP 180)
One of the more interesting competitions is going to be Collins and Dixon in the Baltimore Backfield. Dixon was labelled as the heir apparent last year before an injury ended his season. Collins was fantastic in relief, giving many the impression that the team had moved on. But even after several off the field issues, Baltimore expects Dixon to be a part of it’s offense. The leash will be short, but this may start as a committee and coaches will likely ride the hot hand.
Deep Sleeper: It’s been a while since Willie Snead has popped up on the fantasy radar, but in Baltimore, he’ll have every opportunity to show the talent that flashed in New Orleans. With John Brown no safe bet to see the field, Snead should be heavily involved in the passing game, and Flacco does love to fling it.
29. Miami Dolphins
A team that maybe deserves a bit more respect than they receive annually, the Dolphin’s roster is a who’s who of mediocre players. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is back, so it’s possible he and Davante Parker rekindle the magic that made them both trendy picks a few years ago, but I’m not going to go that far just yet. Likewise, the questions in the run game need to be answered before I invest heavily in a run game that’s actually produced some fantasy relevant backs in recent years. While Kenyan Drake has the inside track, don’t count out Frank Gore as he will likely see a healthy dose of carries early on.
Players Worth Drafting: Kenyan Drake (ADP 41), Devante Parker (ADP 91), Kenny Stills (130), Mike Gesicki (ADP 165), Frank Gore (ADP 172), Albert Wilson (ADP 182)
It was a strange development that saw the Dolphins bring in an aging Frank Gore via free agency, and Kalen Ballage in the draft. If the team believed in Drake, then I’d argue that at least one of them would be elsewhere. As a 5th round pick, that scares the hell out of me, and may force me to look elsewhere. That elsewhere, in this offense, are the 160 targets vacated by Jarvis Landry. While Parker will get his, Albert Wilson is a sneaky pick to slide into the slot. If the Dolphins like his game more than Amendola’s he could be a monster producer out of the 19th round.
Deep Sleeper: I should probably stop screaming his name from the rooftops if I want to secure him in the later rounds, but Kalen Ballage is an intriguing player in that he possesses all the skills necessary to become a 3 down back in the league. Possessing impressive speed for his size, and above average hands in the passing game, Ballage could easily see his timeshare expand to a level that supports a roster spot.
28. Denver Broncos
The addition of Case Keenum elevates this team from dead last, to near last. That’s not to say there’s no one worth drafting, because I do like some of the talent on this roster, but the days of Denver popping out top 30 players is in the past. While Demaryius Thomas still possesses the skill to overcome sub-par quarterback play, the question is can Case Keenum’s arm support multiple fantasy receivers in Denver like it did in Minnesota? Given the age of guys like Emmanuel Sanders, and the inexperience at TE and in the backfield, and I’m cautious when drafting a Denver player.
Players Worth Drafting: Demaryius Thomas (ADP 38), Royce Freeman (ADP 58), Emmanuel Sanders (ADP 68), Devontae Booker (ADP 151), Case Keenum (ADP 157)
Case Keenum went from draft bust to hero last year as he brought the Vikings to within one game of the superbowl. Cashing in on that success, he’s slated to take over the starting gig and I’m not so sure that he’s the franchise cornerstone that last years performances convinced Denver he was. If he reverts back to the player he was before, and I’d argue it’s far more likely that he does, then this offense could continue to struggle beyond Demaryious Thomas.
Deep Sleeper: 2nd Round pick Courtland Sutton has a steep hill to climb with fantasy stalwarts ahead of him in Thomas and Sanders. Expect him to be up to the task. With Sanders coming to the end of a sparkling career, Sutton may see enough of the field to warrant a roster spot after a few weeks.
27. Dallas Cowboys
Oh how the mighty have fallen. I’m sure there’s plenty of Dallas fans shaking their head at the ranking, but the bottom line is that aside from Ezekiel Elliott, their roster is middle of the road at best. When you consider the talent that walked out the door in Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, it’s easy to see why this roster doesn’t inspire much confidence in the fantasy community.
Worth Drafting: Ezekiel Elliott (ADP 4), Dak Prescott (ADP 122), Allen Hurns (ADP 128), Michael Gallup (ADP 164)
A whole lot of mediocre pretty accurately describes the Dallas passing game. While the bulk of the offense is going to run through the run game, it’s a burning question as to where the passing game will trend. It’s clear that fantasy players are out of Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley, the two incumbent receivers of note, but I think Hurns isn’t talent enough to be a true number one receiver. At his current cost, he’s a low risk option, but I’d ignore him at any steeper a price.
Deep Sleeper: I doubt it will be this way when drafts come along, but Gallup is the best chance Dallas has to replace Dez Bryant with a player on it’s roster. He’s not as talented as Bryant in his prime, but Gallup has all the tools to eat up a ton of targets. It might not happen right away, but he has #1 written all over him.
26. Indianapolis Colts
It’s amazing how poorly a franchise can manage it’s star players, but the job the Colts did last year with Andrew Luck’s injured shoulder takes the cake. By not properly handling the injury, they set back the franchise years and forced fantasy owners to look elsewhere for production. The Jacoby Brissett experiment wasn’t all bad, but it didn’t produce much in the way of fantasy points.
Worth Drafting: T.Y. Hilton (ADP 31), Andrew Luck (ADP 91), Jack Doyle (ADP 97), Marlon Mack (ADP 98), Jordan Wilkins (ADP 185), Eric Ebron (ADP 191), Nyheim Hines (ADP 193)
It’s got to say something for how important you are as a player when the success of everyone on this list comes down to if you play or not. For Andrew Luck, that scenario is very real, and could affect who and when you draft. With Hilton especially, the cost is so high that any doubt you have that Andrew Luck is healthy should dissuade you from drafting him. With half of his yards in only 2 games, he’s a massive bust candidate with Brissett under center.
Deep Sleeper: Ryan Grant may not be a sexy name, but the disregard may work in your favor if Luck is back on the field. A healthy Luck is a safe bet for 550 attempts and someone other than Hilton is going to get involved. Grant is likely to be that guy as the tight ends and depth receivers aren’t great options.
CJ Anderson | CAR – ADP 92 – RB43|
Never finishing a season at less than 4 yards per carry, Anderson’s career best 1,000 yard season last year seems to be a distant memory for drafters as he’s being disrespected to the tune of a RB4 ranking. He won’t see many passing down plays, but Carolina signed him to compliment McCaffrey on the ground and in the red zone. With RB2 potential even if McCaffrey is healthy, this is a player I’ll have my eyes on.
Bilal Powell | NYJ – ADP 160 – RB51 |
The addition of Isaiah Crowell in New York has many in the fantasy community souring on Powell’s upside. Not the Dr. With Crowell proving to be no more than a between the tackles plodder, Powell will likely return to the complimentary role that landed him on fantasy radars to begin with. A return to 60 or so receptions and a time share in the backfield that should see him hit 100-125 rushes, he may not be a weekly start, but he’ll be a valuable flex piece with plenty of upside should Crowell prove ineffective on first and second down.
Kalen Ballage | MIA – ADP Undrafted – RB61|
You may ask yourself why I’m so high on a player who’s at best third on his teams depth chart. The short answer is that I think he’s the best back they’ve got. He’s got the surprising speed for his size, turning in a 4.46 at 6’2″ 230lbs, and he’s far and away the best pass catcher on the team, giving him the best opportunity to steal plays if he can work his way into the third down role exclusively. While he’s beginning to creep onto the communities radar (Matthew Berry lists him with sleeper potential), the potential to grab a bell cow back late in drafts is too good to pass up.
Honorable Mention: Kenneth Dixon was supposed to be the guy in Baltimore, but a series of injuries and off the field issues opened the door for Alex Collins to succeed in his stead. Still, the Raven’s unwillingness to move on from Dixon signals to me that they still believe in the back, a great low risk play in round 13 of your draft.
While the season still sits firmly on the horizon, fantasy nerds like myself help prop up the early season ADP data by grinding mock drafts despite having very little information to work with. While I’ll still examine each position with the “hidden gem” feature articles later in the summer, we’re going to provide sleeper updates on a monthly basis until the season begins.
Ryan Tannehill, MIA: Don’t confuse his inclusion on this list as a suggestion that the Dolphins are a team on the rise; because they’re not. What he is, though, is a potential top 15 fantasy quarterback available in the last few rounds of your draft. Ignoring last season, Tannehill has finished 13th (2013), 7th (2014), and 15th (2015), and turned in a dud in 2016 as the QB25 (he did miss 3 games). Those aren’t world beater numbers, but considering the relatively easy schedule he’ll face, and his ability to generate surprising yards on the ground (he averages around 200 yards per season) his floor is well above what we may expect from a player being drafted currently in the 21st round of deep drafts. As a bench player, he costs very little draft capital, but provides more upside than the other QB’s being drafted in a similar spot.
Matt Ryan, ATL: A massive drop off from his QB2 finish in 2016, Ryan’s 2017 has scared off potential suitors and saw him drop to the QB16 spot per current consensus ADP data. No longer playing with the pressures of the QB who blew the biggest super bowl lead, Ryan is poised to bounce back. Atlanta returns it’s superstar backfield, still has Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, and added Calvin Ridley at the draft, marking a very clear focus on surrounding Matty Ice with weapons. A return to the high flying offensive numbers of 2016 may be a stretch, but I’d find it hard to believe if Ryan turns in another dud this year. I fully expect a top 10 QB finish, and one that can be added in the 11th round of your draft.
Ty Montgomery, GB: I know I was derisive of Montgomery last year, but in spite of that, his current ranking (RB59, ADP – 100) is criminally low for a back that many viewed as a top 20 back last year before injuries derailed his season. While he remains an injury risk, a health Montgomery should resume his lead back role in 2018, especially in the passing game. It doesn’t hurt that he’ll be catching passes from the best QB in the game right now. If you need to add depth at the RB position, or punted on early round backs, Montgomery may help bail out a roster.
Marlon Mack, IND: While Mack was a trendy sleeper pick last year behind the aging Frank Gore, his performance over the season left a lot to be desired. In 16 games Mack garnered double digit touches only twice (in week 1 and week 8) otherwise he was an after thought in a terrible Colts offense. Now, he’s in line to be the lead back with Gore leaving for Miami, and the news that he’s fully recovered from surgery to repair a torn labrum he played the season with further cements his “sleeper” status in my mind. Even if Andrew Luck remains on the shelf, in the 8th round of drafts (ADP of 77th overall), Mack provides a solid floor while presenting plenty of upside.
Devante Parker, MIA: Last year, Parker was drafted with the expectation that he’d take a leap into the positions top 20; instead he was saddled with horrendous quarterback play and inconsistent targets following the season ending ACL injury suffered by Ryan Tannehill. While Tannehill doesn’t present much of an upgrade over Jay Cutler and co in terms of real football, he does have a great rapport with Parker. Coupled with a relatively easy schedule, an Parker is a steal at 104 overall.
Cole Beasley, DAL: Another tumultuous offseason for the Cowboys saw franchise corner stone Dez Bryant leave via free agency and Jason Witten retired. Despite the addition of Allen Hurns, the player who stands to gain the most from the absence should be Cole Beasley. After leading the team in targets in 2016, Beasley felt the effects of the Elliott suspension hard as the season saw him finish with only 36 catches on 63 targets. Let’s not forget, though, that the diminutive slot man led the team in targets in 2016 and saw a healthy 75 targets the year before. Expecting 80+ targets shouldn’t be too difficult a prediction considering that Dak Prescott has to throw to somebody and Beasely represents the best option for slot work on a run first team. Basically an afterthought in drafts so far, Beasley can be had for the low low price of nothing.
David Njoku, Cle: Coming out of college Njoku seemed like a lock to contribute right out of the gates, but as we so often find out, rookies are a crap shoot in fantasy. Now, the word is that targets are going to be scarce for the talented tight end, thanks to three very good receivers and two capable pass catching backs on the roster. I’d argue that with Tyrod Taylor’s propensity to scramble with the football, Njoku could be a nice target for owners looking to add TE depth late in drafts. While he likely won’t finish in the top 15 at the position, he’ll probably see a healthy number of targets in the red zone, giving him value regardless.
Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Jac: One of these days my Sefarian-Jenkins take is going to pay off in spades, and this year looks like it’s the year. Uber talented, Sefarian-Jenkins toiled away on a Jets team that couldn’t get consistency on offense no matter how hard it tried. It was recently revealed that ASJ suffered from substance abuse issues that he’s since sought help for and claims that he’s sober and focused on football for the first time as a pro. Color me intrigued as an involved Sefarian-Jenkins could be a monster in fantasy, especially given the lack of top tier weapons in Jacksonville following Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns departures. A late round target, he’ll cost you next to nothing to acquire but could be a massive piece of a championship run.
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.
Jay Cutler signs in Miami: While the consensus is that this was bound to happen, I can’t help but feel that Matt Moore was a better option to run the offense in Tannehill’s absense. Either way, expect this offense to run like Gase has traditionally operated, and his wide receivers should maintain the value they had prior to the Tannehill injury. Cutler himself is a middle of the pack fantasy QB, but don’t be surprised if it takes a few games for him to shake off the rust.
Paxton Lynch struggles in Denver: Despite the only competition comes in the form of former 7th round pick (and incumbent starter) Trevor Seimian, Paxton Lynch continues to fall short of the expectations set forth when Denver spent a first round pick on him in 2016. While it’s far from over in terms of being labelled a bust, Lynch has shown very little spark in practices and will need a huge turnaround or a Seimian injury to win the starting job,
Quarterback Battle in Houston: There seems to be some contention surrounding the quarterback competition in Houston. There are reports that both Savage and Watson are playing far above their head in terms of the on-the-field stuff, but it’s being reported that Savage has the resect of his teammates while Watson is still getting acclimated to the NFL. Assuming Savage wins the starting gig, it’ll be a difficult road to keeping it with games against Jacksonville and New England presenting elite secondaries.
Tyreek Hill gains Chemistry with Smith: The opportunity will be there regardless for Hill in the absense left by Maclin’s depature, but his budding chemistry is good news for Hill fans. Experts are speculating a 70-80 catch season which would put Hill solidly in the WR2 camp with a potential to push top billing as the #1 in Kansas City.
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.
As futile as the exercise may seem this early, identifying sleeper candidates is one of the most important pieces of research you can embark upon. Below we’ll identify three leading candidates for you to keep an eye on before the preaseaon starts.
Austin Hooper – Atlanta Falcons | ADP 178 – TE 21 | It’s not fair to Austin Hooper that TE’s in Atlanta will be compared to all-time great Tony Gonzalez, but that’s the long and short of it.
With Jacob Tamme gone, Hooper will reprise his role from primarily a blocking TE to catching the football. So far, Matt Ryan has rung his praises, and the Falcons are preparing to get Hooper involved in the high flying offense in Atlanta. Prediction: 750 Receiving Yards, 8 TDs
Julius Thomas – Miami Dolphins |ADP 134 – TE 19 | While Thomas was certainly on these lists over the last few years, it was a combination of poor health and poor fit that caused him to disappear from fantasy relevance. Well queue the music because Thomas finds himself reunited with Adam Gase (the man responsible for his fantastic TE1 seasons in Denver). Despite this, and the fact that Miami has effectively used TE’s in the past (eg. Charles Clay, Jordan Cameron), Thomas is still being drafted as the 19th best TE. Prediction: 900 Receiving Yards, 12 TDs
Erik Swoope – Indianapolis Colts | ADP 319 – TE 42 | Just when you though I wouldn’t go deeper than Julius Thomas, here comes Erik “won’t get drafted” Swoope to round out the TE sleepers. While Jack Doyle is being considered the heir to departed Dwayne Allen’s starting TE gig, it’s Swoope, the former college basketball player, who has the athleticism to make a difference in Indy’s pass first offense. Averaging almost 20 yards per catch, Swoope will inhabit at the very least the targets that went to Allen, meaning he can expect 60-80 targets regardless. Sure he won’t average the same 19.8 ypc he did last year but he carries massive upside from the very last round. Prediction: 800 Receiving Yards, 6 TDs
Honorable Mentions: Dwayne Allen, NE (ADP 221), Jared Cook, Oak (ADP 198), Jordan Legget, NYJ (ADP 315).