The NFC South has produced two Superbowl teams in the last two years, and looks to be a competative division again with four strong football teams. As usual, the South should be strong in the fantasy representation as well, with high flying offenses and high ranking individuals.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Julio Jones (WR2), Matt Ryan (QB4), Devonta Freeman (RB5), Austin Hooper (TE20), Tevin Coleman (RB22), Taylor Gabriel (WR64), Mohamed Sanu (WR75)
Synopsis – Some may be concerned with where this team is mentally after blowing a monster lead in the Superbowl, but I’d argue that the talent trumps any kind of hangover. The offense is led by the triumverate of elite players in Julio Jones, Matt Ryan, and Devonta Freeman, and they all look to offer early round values. Coleman and Sanu are likely to carve out minor fantasy roles with Austin Hooper being the likely breakout candidate following Jacob Tamme’s departure. Expect fireworks in Atlanta again this year.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Greg Olsen (TE3), Cam Newton (QB10), Christian McCaffrey (RB16), Kevlin Benjamin (WR31), Jonathan Stewart (RB34), Devin Funchess (WR72)
Synopsis – Cam Newton suffered a litany of minor injuries and his stats suffered as a result. His expectations have been adjusted but with the addition of Christian McCaffrey, fans are hopeful we’ll see more plays from the pocket and less vicious hits at the end of short runs. A healthy Kelvin Benjamin looks to rebound, and Jonathan Stewart returns to his role as underdog, and figures to excel despite the precipitous drop in the rankings. Ole reliable Greg Olsen returns as my TE3, and could quietly finish as the top TE considering his role in this offense.
New Orleans Saints
Notable Fantasy Stars: Drew Brees (QB3), Michael Thomas (WR8), Mark Ingram (RB18), Willie Snead (WR36), Adrian Peterson (RB40), Ted Ginn (WR56), Coby Fleener (TE14)
Synopsis – It was an interesting offseason by the Saints as they traded former first round WR Brandin Cooks to the Patriots, and signed 32 year old Adrian Peterson to fill out what they hope to be a more balanced offensive attack. Mark Ingram may suffer slightly if AP is more than advertised, but considering the lower number of touches last year, one can expect a RB2 finish regardless. Michael Thomas slides into the WR1 spot but Willie Sneed and Coby Fleener should be the big winner as their targets should rise significantly as Brees is still likely to throw the ball 600 times.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Notable Fantasy Stars: Mike Evans (WR3), Jameis Winston (QB6) ,O.J. Howard (TE17), Cameron Brate (TE22), Doug Martin (RB33), Charles Sims (RB57), DeSean Jackson (WR30)
Synopsis – The Bucs are a tough team to get a handle on, but Mike Evans and Jameis Winston no longer qualify as both guys should finish in the top ten at their positions. Doug Martin and Charles Sims should split time (again) with the Muscle Hamster tackling the early downs and Sims cleaning up the passing situations. Beyond Evans, the Bucs have two young TE’s (OJ Howard is likely the most valuable in a fantasy sense) that should be heavy in the passing game, and DeSean Jackson seems to find his way onto the fantasy radar despite his WR3 ranking.
One of the more shocking developments to come along over the off season was future hall of fame RB Adrian Peterson signing for two years in New Orleans. While the writing was certainly on the wall in Minnesota, Peterson’s arrival on the Saints roster creates a bit of a logjam with Mark Ingram, Tavaris Cadet and Rookie RB Alvin Kamara all vying for playing time.
At his current ADP of 70 (information provided via ESPN data) it’s clear that Peterson is being viewed with a great deal of caution after years in the spotlight come draft day. It’s certainly important to remember that before Peterson’s season ended last year he had rewarded first round attention with 72 yards and 1.9 YPC mark. While he’s certain to improve his efficiency (his career YPC is 4.9) the question remains how many touches can he reasonably expect?
The Saints ran 404 rushing plays last year, with 205 of them going to Ingram who remains entrenched as the Saints starter. I’d expect that number to remain about the same (as well as a YPC around 5) so at his 5th round price (around pick 45) he’s a veteran presence who if healthy (and looking at his career that is a big if) should provide a decent return. In PPR leagues he commands a better draft position as his 45-50 receptions should put him in line as a borderline RB1.
In the very late rounds, rookie RB Alvin Kamara is worth a look as his skill set could reward owners if Ingram or Peterson miss a good chunk of games. The Saints are keen on keeping the workload reasonable on their aging backs and Kamara can slot in on both rushing and passing downs. If both backs ahead of him stay healthy his ceiling is relatively low (40-60 rushes for 200-270 yards and 150 yards through the air) so he’s likely a waiver watch candidate rather than a flier, but in keeper and dynasty leagues could be worth a look late.
Mark Ingram: He’ll continue to dominate the backfield as he’s finally comfortable with the offense and could see a greater number of passes with the departure of Brandin Cooks. 1,100 rushing yards with 6 TDs on the ground and 55 receptions for 390 yards and 2 TDs through the air.
Adrian Peterson: He may have some value if he can score a few red zone looks early, but he’s unlikely to steal enough carries to be worth drafting in the first 6-8 rounds. 450 rushing yards with 4 TDs on the ground and not much through the air.
Alvin Kamara: An NFL ready prospect by all accounts, Kamara will need an injury or two ahead of him to make an impact. Seeing the two names above him, I see that as a likely event. 300 rushing yards and 1 TD on the ground and 30 receptions for 200 yards and 1 TD through the air
- 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.
Face it, we all look at our favorite storied franchise with rose colored glasses. Open any local team news resource and it’ll be spelled out plainly through the biased coverage. “Our team rules, your team drools!” But only one team can win the big one, and only so many teams even compete. There’s always a team sliding backwards, so lets examine who’s moving in which direction with this weeks Turnover on Downs.
Oakland Raiders – We’ve been here before, and this team seems to make “positive” strides every year. But for every step forward, there seems to be a Jamarcus Russell sized step backwards. This year feels different. Adding a difference maker to each side of the ball in wideout Amari Cooper and defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. will go a long way towards stabalizing overall balance. More importantly this team cut fat by parting ways with mecurial RB Darren McFadden and moving forward with Latavius Murray. As Derek Carr enters his second year under center, the Raiders look poised to leap frog some of the teams they’ve long been behind.
Buffalo Bills – Another team known for its smoke and mirrors, Buffalo has teased us before, but never to the extent that we’ve seen this offseason. An already elite defense gets a great defensive coach in Rex Ryan, a slight upgrade with Matt Cassell at QB, and a premier RB in LeSean McCoy to be the focal point of a run first team. This team has shades of the Rex Ryan coached Jets teams that made it to the AFC Championship in spite of Mark Sanchez’s obvious short comings. They still play in a division with the Patriots, so in the end it may be a moot point, but this team on paper has improved significantly.
Minnesota Vikings – Teddy Bridgewater should keep pace with his second year counterpart in Oakland thanks to the probably return of Adrian Peterson and an upgraded WR corps that sees Mike Wallace enter a young and exciting receiving group. On defense, youth and talent will be injected through the draft and free agency, the only obstical now is the same as above; a tough division to play in.
Indianapolis Colts – Deflated footballs aside, this team felt the sting of defeat in a lopsided AFC Championship game and decided they were going to load up. Adding Andre Johnson and Frank Gore during free agency and drafting speedy WR Phillip Dorsett makes them the premier offense in the AFC. Bolstering defensive depth through both the draft and free agency will be the biggest question mark going into the year, but Andrew Luck and company should be able to outscore anyone on any given night.
New York Jets – While everyone in the division got a little better, the Jets did very little in the offseason to correct it’s biggest deficiencies. Sure, there formidable front 7 on defense got better with the addition of Leonard Williams, but until they have someone other than Geno Smith or the newly acquired journey man Ryan Fitzpatrick, this team won’t be able to keep up with the Patriots or Dolphins offensively, and Sexy Rexy has a better version of the blueprint in New York. With aging WR’s and no playmakers in the backfield, this could be another long season for the J – E – T – S Jets.
New Orleans Saints – After losing Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills, this once formidable Saints offense will have to rely on RB Mark Ingram more than ever, and I’d argue that’s a terrifying prospect. Sure, he had a good season last year, but we’ve seen this story before, and I’m not convinced that Josh Hill or Marquese Colston are good enough to step into the shoes vacated by Graham and Stills.
Cleveland Browns – Defensively, this team falls middle of the pack, but they did not make strides on either side of the ball in free agency or the draft to fill the voids that caused them to stumble last year. Quarterback in Orange and Brown is a black hole as the team added 36 year old Josh McCown and sent Johnny Manziel to rehab. Josh Gordon is being replaced at WR1 by Dwayne Bowe, who had a solid season in KC but could’t break the plane in the endzone. Coupled with a few “Meh” receivers and an uncertain log jam at RB, this team could be looking at a top 5 pick.
St. Louis Rams – Nick Foles is still an unknown quantity, but my opinion is that he’s not good enough to carry a team in the NFL. He’ll face a new challenge in St. Louis as the talent around him dips as well. Todd Gurley will be a great player, but he’ll be slowed this season by an ACL injury, and Kenny Britt cannot be counted on to be a number one. This team will probably flirt with .500 early, but they’re trending down until they find a QB that makes sense.
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.