In the interest of avoiding plucking at low hanging fruit, we’ll ignore players who were duds due to injury, and instead focus on players who underperformed enough that you may have soured on owning them in your leagues.
Jay Ajayi, RB – Phi: Before the season, I cautioned anyone planning on using a first or second round pick on Ajayi to reconsider. His numbers were a mirage propped up on the back of three 200 yard games. Through 7 weeks my point was proven as the listless Dolphins managed to trot out a Jay Cutler led offense that struggled to move the football for long stretch. Ajayi managed a paltry 3.3 yards per game for the Dolphins, prompting the trade that would bring him a championship ring.
Following the trade, Ajayi started running harder. Was it simply a change of scenery or was it because the offense had talent around him? Whatever the case may be, Ajayi managed 408 yards on 70 attempts, good for a 5.8 yard per carry mark. Now, with LeGarrette Blount gone to Detroit, this backfield is his for the taking. While he won’t average 5.8 YPC with an expanded role, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t approach the 1,000 yard mark with 6-8 TD’s.
Samaje Perine, RB – WAS: Before the season, one of the trendiest sleeper picks was rookie RB Samaje Perine, only to see his stock drop precipitously following a disastrous pre-season. Rob Kelley did nothing to dispel the rumors of his impending take over, though, and midway through the season Perine was seeing regular touches. Unfortunately for owners, aside from a two week stretch that saw him amass 47 rushes and over 200 yards, he was uninspiring.
With Alex Smith now under center in Washington, I’d place my bets on this team moving to a more run heavy attack, and that will only benefit the 2nd year Perine. With no one but Rob Kelley in his way for the bulk of carries, there’s little doubt in my mind that he’ll be atop the depth chart when the season starts. Currently ranked 49th at his position by Matthew Berry’s early rankings, that is the kind of value I want out of my late round picks.
Bilal Powell, RB – NYJ: The Jets backfield experienced major upheaval as Matt Forte retired and Isaiah Crowell and Thomas Rawls were both brought in to fill the gap. What does this mean for Powell? I’d argue not much. The Jets were a dumpster fire last year, and the lack of talent on offense kept Powell from rewarding owners who expected massive PPR points from the capable pass catcher.
Despite the addition of these two other backs, Powell should return with a virtual lock on third down work, and with even a slight improvement of the talent around him, Powell should return to the 10+ points per week contributor many expected. While his value in standard (non PPR) leagues is much less grandiose, being ranked 36th at his position is a criminal undervalue.
Honorable Mentions: Jeremy Hill has a lot to prove if he wants to make the roster in New England, but at only 25 years old, and a few years removed from elite performances, he has a chance to return to glory as a Patriot. Likewise, LeGarrett Blount finds himself moving from one crowded backfield in Philly, to another in Detroit. The difference is that the Lions haven’t been able to find a healthy back to carry the load and they hope Blount is that guy. As always, he’ll lack in the catches stat, but should have plenty of opportunity in the red zone with very little competition for those carries on the roster.
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.
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.
Over the next few days, we’ll publish a series entitled Sparknotes, each article will take a birds eye view into each NFL division and it’s most important fantasy players.
Despite Tom Brady’s four game suspension and two games with third string QB Jacoby Brissett, the Pats managed to run away with the AFC East yet again, with a 14-2 record. The Dolphin’s backed into the playoffs at 10-6 and both the Bills (7-9) and the Jets (5-11) finished on the outside.
New Englad Patriots
Notable Fantasy Stars: Tom Brady (QB2), Rob Gronkowski (TE1), Brandon Cooks (WR16), Julien Edelman (WR25), Mike Gillislee (RB27), James White (RB51)
Synopsis: The Patriots were busier than usual this past offseason, adding to a Superbowl winning roster with Brandin Cooks from New Orleans and Stephane Gilmore from Buffalo. Brady and Gronk continue as the Patriots two “sure things” on offense, but Cooks and Edelman (in PPR formats mostly) offer plenty of fantasy power. The Running back situation is murky at best; between Gillislee and White, NE projects to be one of the more fluid week-to-week RB committees again.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Jay Ajayi (RB9), Ryan Tannehill (QB20), Jarvis Landry (WR22), Julius Thomas (TE20), Devante Parker (WR40)
Synopsis: After a brutal finish to the season, Tannehill returns with the blessings of head coach Adam Gase. He’ll lead a passing attack that returns high-volume slot man Jarvis Landry and the buzzy Devante Parker, in addition to Gase’s former elite TE in Denver, Julius Thomas. In the backfield, Jay Ajayi will start the year no longer buried behind now-retired Arian Foster. Will he continue to dominate in short stretches? Half of his yards came in three games, so look for more conistency out of the second year back.
Notable Fantasy Stars: LeSean McCoy (RB4), Tyrod Taylor (QB11), Sammy Watkins (WR15), Charles Clay (TE26), Zay Jones (WR65), Jonathan Williams (RB69)
Synopsis: Buffalo may not be any closer to unseating New England in real life football, but this team has a wealth of young fantasy studs. McCoy should continue to see a ton of touches, but Jonathan Williams is quietly earning buzz as a deep sleeper thanks to the departure of Mike Gillislee. One assume if Sammy Watkins is healthy, he’ll be dominant, and the addition of Zay Jones in this years draft means less double teams for Watkins and more weapons for Taylor to use.
New York Jets
Notable Fantasy Stars: Bilal Powell (RB29), Josh McCown (QB30), Matt Forte (RB39), Quincy Enunwa (WR62), Robby Anderson (WR68)
Synopsis: Sorry Jets fans, but this is gonna be a long year. A conservative guess would have this team winning 3 games this year, but a byproduct of being behind in most games means that someone is going to score some garbage time points. All signs point to Bilal Powell (assuming he wrangles a larger chunk of touches from Forte) being the breakout fantasy star, but Quincy Enunwa should get a lot of attention from McCown now that Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are out of town. Robby Anderson is a nice little reciever but likely nothing more than a waiver wire pick up if things go well for him early.
After looking at the middle round gems for QB’s, we turn our attention to the muddled mess that is the middle to late round “committee” backs. While studs like David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliot will dominate the backfield touches for their respective teams, there are plenty of potential stars slogging through the expanded depth charts of “RB by Committee” coaches.
New England Patriots: There’s little doubt to the risk one assumes when drafting a NE running back. Gillislee projects to man the bulk of the running downs, but White is my early pick for passing downs (Lewis and Burkhead will likely battle for the last roster spot). Back to draft: Mike Gillislee
Cincinatti Bengals: Despite the addition of Joe Mixon at the draft, the Bengals have bucked conventional wisdom and rolled with a mostly effective committee over the last two years. With Bernard and Hill still on the roster, none of the three can be counted on to have an early fantasy impact. Back to Draft: Joe Mixon
Cleveland Browns: While the jury was out prior to last season on whether Duke Johnson could steam meaningful touches from the Crow, the biggest question mark this year is do they remain in a nearly 50/50 split? Crowell is likely to man the bulk of the rushes but Johnson is more than effective with the rock (4.9 ypc and 55 receptions for 500 yards). Your leagues format should dictate who you draft – Standard Scoring, Crowell – PPR, Johnson Jr.
Philadelphia Eagles: If the waters were muddled enough last year with both RBs often on the sidelines with injuries, the Eagles have added short yardage specialist LeGarrett Blount to the fold. Don’t expect 300 carries from the plodding back either, but he should syphon the bulk of the goal line carries effectively ending Ryan Mathews as a fringe RB1/RB2. Sproles will still garner some attention in PPR leagues, but even then he’ll cede some 3rd down touches to Dalton Pumphrey. Back to Draft: LeGarrett Blount
Seattle Seahawks: While things look a bit more stable with the addition of former stud Eddie Lacy, the talent of Rawls and Prosise behind him on the depth chart mean that Seattle will offer a short leash on Lacy’s tenure as the lead back. If he struggles early, Prosise will likely get the first shot at the lead role but his health could impact as well. Back to Draft: Eddie Lacy
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags drafted Yeldon and added Ivory in an attempt to add both a dynamic between the 20’s RB and a head down goal line back. The addition of Fournette could make both obsolete as the massive rookie has both the speed and size to play three downs. Still, if the rookie finds a lack of footing in the NFL, Yeldon could still steal a chunk of carries.
Denver Broncos: The Broncos seem to make things interesting every year. First it was Montee Ball and whatever other bum he was fighting for time with, then it was he and Anderson, then Anderson and Booker. To make matters worse, the Broncos took a flier on the ultra talented (and oft-injured) Jamaal Charles. By all reports he’ll be ready for the start of the season, but it’ll take a rough patch early for Anderson to really lose out on touches.
Detroit Lions: Abdullah missed all of last season to injury but the Lions front office is saying they expect the young back to return at the top of the depth chart. He has the goods, but with Riddick eating away at the passing downs, there is a risk of a true two headed committee in Detroit.
Minnesota Vikings: When AP finally left town, the Vikings shelled out 15 million to land the athletically gifted Latavius Murray out of Oakland. Then, to make us all wonder aloud what the heck is going on, they trade up to select potential superstar RB Dalvin Cook in the draft. I would expect that the supremely talented Cook shows up atop the depth chart early, but with Murray waiting in the wings it could be a while before he really sees meaningful fantasy touches.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Any committee list isn’t complete until you discuss whether or not the Muscle Hamster can retain his tenuous hold on the starts role in Tampa Bay. Charles Sims (like Theo Riddick) is an obvious bet to see a lot of third down work, so Martin will have to have a monster year again to remain relevant as a RB1/RB2.
Well the NFL Season is right around the corner and The Dr. is in the house! I apologize for my late arrival, but the world around us never ceases. Alas, here we are!
To ease us into the new Fantasy year, we’ll come back with 3 quick hits ( a veritable Fantasy 3 and out, if you will ).
1) Ezekial Elliot, worth the hype?
I wrote this article last year when the Todd Gurley train was a-rolling. I still feel very much the same way about rookie RB’s. Let them be the other guys mistake! Now, I conceed that Elliot is in a fantastic position to provide hefty fantasy dividends, and I’ll also admit that he looks like he’ll be a solid NFL pro at some point, but for every Gurley or Peterson, there are more still of the Bishop Sankey/Felix Jones’ of the world.
2) Suspensions Galore!
One of the most difficult things to gauge is how a player is impacted by a suspension (or even injuries). The offseason so two elite Fantasy players in Tom Brady and Le’Veon Bell find themselves with 4 games suspensions, and leave drafters wondering what their value is. Truthfully, I think both players will provide elite fantasy production down the stretch, and their draft positions will likely reflect that. You’ll have to go earlier than you probably would like to get them, so make sure you’re prepared with a good plan to suppliment their numbers in the middle rounds, otherwise skip on them all together.
3) The continued fall of the RB.
Last year we saw more leagues than ever load up on QB and WR early and take swings at middling RB’s in the hopes that they turned into gold. I was one of the unlucky ones who retained Bell’s services and felt the egg as it hit my face simultanious to his knee injury. Owners of Eddie Lacy, Jamaal Charles, DeMarco Murray, and other top of the draft RB’s who didn’t live up to expectations can attest to that now. Remember, RB is no longer the easiest position to draft, there’s too many committees and offenses that run through the air. Your best bet? Draft elite WR’s first, they’ve shown to be more consistent over the past few years.
- Michael Floyd – WR / Arizona Cardinals (Hand) – I expect Floyd to be ready for week one, but it’s clear the door is open for John Brown to ascend to push Floyd further down on our rankings. Unless he gets meaningful preseason reps, I’d expect him to open as the WR3 in Arizona.
- Kevin White – WR / Chicago Bears (Shin) – 6 weeks minimum is the expected time missed for the rookie as his shin injury required surgery. He could be on the shelf longer, but even when he returns it’s unlikely he’ll provide much fantasy help. Eddie Royal is looking like gold right now…
- Darren McFadden – RB / Dallas (Hamstring) – Although it’s not nearly as severe as the other injuries on this list, the mere mention of yet another injury in the long litany of them DMC has suffered should give owners pause. Draft with extreme caution, primarily as the cuff to Joseph Randle who now owns the keys to the kingdom.
- Joique Bell – RB / Detroit Lions (Knee) – Bell is working hard to find his way back on to the field, but it may be too little too late for the ageing veteran. Ameer Abdullah’s hype train seems unstoppable at this point, and while Bell won’t be kicked to the curb completely, it’s hard to expect him to handle a larger portion of the snaps.
- Arian Foster – RB / Houston (Groin) – It’s looking like half the season or more after groin surgery to repair the most recent injury to Foster. I argued to look past the injury history with Foster earlier in the off season, but it’s hard to ignore the facts; Foster is an injury waiting to happen, and as such needs to be handled with kid gloves. The fear with Foster is that even when he does play it’ll be a wait and see approach if he’s even worth starting. More of a last round flier than anything else with his history.
- Devante Parker – WR / Miami (Foot) – He showed flashes earlier in the off season and looked to fill a role on a team with several diminutive possession receivers. He should be ready for week one, but it may take him some time to get going, and Miami has a lot of mouths to feed. Be mindful he won’t be impact-full for several weeks at best to start the season.
- Brandon LaFell – WR / New England Patriots (Foot) – What exactly does his injury report mean? Not much considering that New England is the masters at giving just enough information to seem forthcoming but really say nothing. He may be hobbled to a bit to start the season, but without Brady, his numbers should be stunted anyways.
- CJ Spiller – RB / New Orleans Saints (Knee) – Spiller’s injury likely won’t cost him regular season playing time but it’s worth noting that Spiller has had troubles staying healthy in the past. When he’s on the field he’s electric, and his ability to play 3rd and passing downs makes him a valuable asset, but keep a close eye on his health going into your drafts, and have a backup plan for if (when) he becomes injured.
- Zach Ertz – TE / Philadelphia Eagles (Torso) – Ertz had a relatively minor surgery on his core, so expect him to be ready for week one. Not nearly as concerning as a head, knee, or foot injury, I’d ignore this one as a real threat to his ascension into the elite ranks of TE’s. Expect him utilized early and often in Chip Kelly’s uptempo offense.
- Niles Paul – TE / Washington Redskins (Ankle) – At one point, the question of which Washington TE would get the bulk of looks was a real one. Now we know it won’t be Paul. The out-of-no-where contributor will be on the shelf for the 2015 season after breaking his ankle in the preseason. If Jordan Reed is healthy ( and they’re a concern there as well ) he could be worthy of a later round flier.
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.
Fantasy Football is equal parts examination of numbers and patterns and following your gut. Both can get you in trouble, and both can result in the ultimate reward. When faced with a question of drafting an aging or injury prone running back, the question of handcuffs will inevitably come up. Is it worth it to use a draft pick on a player who may never see the field? Like any question, it’s important to know the players.
There are two very different scenarios at play here. Scenario one is best represented with a player like Arian Foster. At 29 years old, Foster is an old man in football terms who has a ton of mileage on his wheels. When he’s healthy, he’s a consensus top 5 fantasy back who in only 13 games managed 260 touches on the ground and 300 total including the passing game. The real question is what do you do in the 3 games he’s not healthy?
By handcuffing Alfred Blue, you’re ensuring you have a starter for those weeks when he inevitably breaks down and at an ADP of 193 in standard scoring leagues you’re not spending a high impact pick on the player. It’s a solid strategy to have if you’re concerned about Fosters health, but it is hardly the only scenario worth looking at.
My personal preference is to eschew the “handcuff” strategy and put an extra starting RB or two on the bench and watch the waivers to snag another backup who snags starting duties ala Isaiah Cromwell to mitigate injuries. A scenario that isn’t so far-fetched would be to select LeGarrett Blount (ADP of 75) in the 7th or 8th round to cover byes and unforseen injuries and take a late round flier on a player like Maxx Williams (ADP 191) or Eddie Royal (ADP 207). There’s plenty of reason to be excited about both of those players, and the odds that you’ll get season long production increases when you have players who aren’t sitting behind their incumbent starters just waiting for an injury.
If Foster goes down in week 4 would you rather have Alfred Blue ( 528 yards, 3.1 YPC with 2 TDs) or LeGarrett Blount (547 yards, 4.4 YPC with 5 TDs)? Both players had limited exposure last year, but Blount is in a position to carry the ball as the #1 in a high-powered New England offense and I’d argue is the better “backup” when Foster isn’t playing.
Of course, there is no right or wrong way to look at this. If you’re lucky enough to handcuff CJ Anderson to Montee Ball last year, you likely laughed deep into the playoffs and disagree whole heartedly. If you wasted a pick on Christine Michael… well there’s two sides to every coin.
Our previous exercise continues as we look at our teams in the middle. You may not agree with all of my rankings, but each of these teams pair good to great fantasy options with other question marks on offense.
23. Kansas City Chiefs
I know what you’re thinking, “they have Jamaal Charles!” That alone does not elevate this team higher on my list. Alex Smith is a fine game manager, but his deep ball is lacking and if the numbers from the WR’s last season indicate anything, this team doesn’t have a lick of consistency. Jeremy Maclin is an upgrade over Dwayne Bowe, but even this is speculative as Maclin could be the next WR to disappear from relevance. Travis Kelce has elite talent but had several brutal weeks to go with his successful ones. Worth drafting: Jamaal Charles is going to go in the first round, for good reason, but to expect 16 healthy games is unrealistic, Knile Davis is a fine handcuff. Travis Kelce finished near the top of TE’s but had some really bad weeks; draft with cautious optimism that he can be even better. Alex Smith is a QB2 or bench depth at best; he’ll never be a top 10 QB.
22. Oakland Raiders
Young, skilled, and unpredictable. This team could very well surprise and finish with several high profile fantasy heroes. Derek Carr showed flashes of brilliance last year, and the addition-by-subtraction move to let Darren McFadden go means the talented Latavius Murray will get the start in the backfield. Add Amari Cooper into the mix and you have the makings of a solid offensive team. Worth Drafting: Latavius Murray is a popular pick to elevate his game, especially after reports indicated they’ll be tailoring the offense to Murray’s strengths. Cooper will likely be valued a little high on draft day so you may be disappointed in year one. Carr showed he has what it takes to make it in the NFL, I expect him to elevate his game even more.
21. Minnesotta Vikings
There’s a lot of distraction with the Adrian Peterson saga still unfolding, but I’m operating under the assumption that he starts in week one for the Vikes. Even still, expect them to ease him back into the line up, lightening the load early. Teddy Bridgwater is in the same boat as Carr; a ton of talent but still has to prove how to use it. His WR’s are a bit of a question mark. Charles Johnson seems like he might be a breakout candidate, but Mike Wallace is an over the top receiver with little upside compared to his contemporaries. I’d love for Kyle Rudolph to bring it all together, as he has elite TE talent, but can’t stay on the field. Worth Drafting: Adrian Peterson could still be the AP of old, and many will bet that he is. At worst he’s still a RB1. Bridgewater has to do it with less weapons than the other youngsters in the league, so I figure he’ll struggle to find his stride early, but could suprise; a good upside QB 2 with no threat to his job. Maybe I just don’t like Mike Wallace, but I don’t think he’s as much of a difference maker going forward as I think they’ll look to involve Johnson and Patterson a bit more, both of whom are worth a look later in drafts. Kyle Rudolph will be less expensive than he has been in the past, I’d bet on the production if healthy.
20. Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton is only 26 years old, so the feeling that he’s past his prime is just wrong. He’s matured and should be healthy heading into the year. Top 5 finish isn’t out of the question, but a conservative view has him around 10 in my rankings. Jonathan Stewart has the pieces, but the health elludes him. He’ll be good when he’s on the field but I’d rather go elsewhere in the first 3 rounds. Kelvin Benjamin should benefit the most from Newton’s presence, and should be a top 10WR target. Worth Drafting: Newton and Benjamin need each other for success, as the other pieces are lacking. Stewart is a fine back but I’d bet it’s more probable than not that he misses time. Cotchery in PPR leagues could be worth a look in the middle rounds, or a late flier in non-PPR.
19. San Fransisco 49ers
Every year there’s a QB that I think is going to elevate to the top teir. Last year it was Ben Roethlisber, this year it’s Colin Kaepernick. He struggle last year trying to adjust to a pocket passing role. In the off season he’s worked tirelessly to improve his efficiency and I expect hiim to see a spike in fantasy production. Carlos Hyde will likely get drafted far to early, and I caution against over hyping a player that has never been a full time starter. Adding Torrey Smith means more room for Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin to run. Both should continue to see good production, and Smith should benefit from Kaep’s strong arm down the feild. Worth Drafting: My bold prediction is Kaepernick finishes inside the top 10 at his position. Boldin is a machine and should produce, and Vernon Davis will bounce back. Carlos Hyde will look good for stretches but I don’t want him as my RB1.
18. New England Patriots
At this time, Brady is expected to miss 4 games, meaning a quarter of the season will feature backup Jimmy Garoppolo. Despite that the experts think he’s still the best QB in the division, I sense a down tick in production for each of New Englands big guns. Edeleman relies on Brady’s accuracy and LaFell is usually a later option. Can Garoppolo read the D like Brady and involve all of his weapons? Brady could beat his suspension which would likely rank this offense higher. Worth Drafting: Tom Brady has a chip on his shoulder, if you can survive 4 weeks with a backup QB, he’s worth a pick. I don’t draft a Patriots RB ever, for reason that should be obvious. Blount is not an elite NFL running back. Gronk shouldn’t see too much of a dip in production, but LaFell and Edeleman may struggle for a few weeks.
17. Cincinnatti Bengals
Andy Dalton has been the most frustrating of NFL quarterbacks in terms of fantasy. He produces for a time, then he kills you for a time. AJ Green is a stud, even if his numbers took a hit with Dalton’s struggles last year. The big question is does the team invest in surprise starter Jeremy Hill or does it go back to Gio Bernard? Worth Drafting: Dalton has shown he can be a low end QB starter, but you’re asking a lot from a player that struggled at times. A.J. Green is a safe pick, he’s as elite as any in the league. Despite Jeremy Hill’s success on the field, he put up similar numbers to Gio Bernard when he started, I feel a committee coming on.
16. New Orleans Saints
If you’re convinced Mark Ingram finally hit his stride, that could spell disaster for Drew Brees as he’s tumbling down draft boards with managements admittance that they’d like to balance the offense. No more will Brees attempt 650 passes, and this hurts them across the board. Brandin Cooks is a great WR and should do well taking over for Colston as the #1, but Ingram is the big question mark. An underwhelming start to his career was instantly wiped out of the minds of fantsy owners after a solid, if unspectacular year. Worth Drafting: Despite the reports, I’m not convinced Ingram can carry the load, and if Brees falls due to the buzz, I wouldn’t hesitate to draft him in the 3rd or 4th round. Ingram isn’t going to hit a lot of home runs but he should avg around 4 YPC and have a handful of TD’s. The fear is injuries or regression. Cooks is a stud in the making, and Brees will be looking to him often. Colston is another player who may fall beyond their value in your draft. PS. Josh Hill is not Jimmy Graham, so don’t mistake the two come draft day.
15. Baltimore Ravens
When Torrey Smith left, I was worried that Flacco lost his deep threat, but Breshad Perriman could prove to be an even better reciever than Smith. Steve Smith Sr. will likely prove his doubters wrong, and Justin Forsett finally provides stability in the backfield even with Taliefaro lurking in the wings. Worth Drafting: As always, Flacco takes a hit due to the scheme Baltimore runs, but his up weeks are great, solid back up or QB 2 in two quartback leagues. In ways that I don’t with other backs, I believe Forsett can run the football well enough to be a fantasy contributor. Steve Smith will be good again, and Perriman should be one of the rookies to perform in the top 20 of his position.
14. Arizona Cardinals
The team didn’t replace Ellington in the draft, meaning they think he can still perform. Maybe they’re not ready to say that a healthy Carson Palmer will make things different across the board. The stable of WR’s in Arizona are deep and talented, and they should create mismatches across the field. Worth Drafting: Palmer when healthy has the tools around him to be a top 15QB. Fitzgerald is a safe bet to be a top 10 WR and between Michael Floyd and John Brown, defenses will have a hard time adjusting. All of these players will be in play come draft day. Andre Ellington will either play well or be pushed out by the talented David Johnson, who I’d look at as a sleeper in the late rounds. Either way, there should be more consistency the backfield to open up the passing game.
13. Philadelphia Eagles
I personally think all things being equal, Sam Bradford is a superior quarterback to Nick Foles. Add in DeMarco Murray and you have the makings of a good to great offense. Jordan Matthews is only 22 but has big play ability and Chip Kelly has excelled with speedy talented players. The biggest boon for this team was the addition of DeMarco Murray. If LeSean McCoy’s troubles were less about running lanes and more about the runner, Murray should be in for another good year with a ton of touches. Worth Drafting: DeMarco Murray is still a top 5 back, and in Chip Kelly’s offense has a chance to finish at the top of the league again. Bradford will be a sexy pick on draft day, but try to maximize value at the QB position and he may not be that guy. Cooper should continue to see targets on intermediate routes and Matthews was a beast as a 21 year old, but Nelson Agholor could eat into his touches just a bit. Speaking of Agholor, he’s a quality sleeper candidate on a good offensive team. Look at him later in drafts.