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!
4. Green Bay Packers
The only thing this team is missing to be in the top three is a viable run game, but the mere presence of the best quarter back in the league helps elevate the entire passing game. Add to his arsenal an elite red zone weapon in tight end Jimmy Graham, and you have a recipe for success for one of the leagues best passing attacks.
Players Worth Drafting: Davante Adams (ADP 22), Aaron Rodgers (ADP 23), Jimmy Graham (ADP 61), Randall Cobb (ADP 88), Jamaal Williams (ADP 105), Aaron Jones (ADP 124), Ty Montgomery (ADP 131)
The real question becomes “is there anyone who can handle the rushing duties?” It feels like forever ago that Eddie Lacy was a first round pick, and after last years three back committee failed to churn out more than a spot start here and there, the hunt is on as all three return in some capacity. While Aaron Jones looked more impressive in his opportunities, it looks like Williams will get the first crack at the job.
Deep Sleeper: Last year I tore into the idea that Ty Montgomery was a viable three down back, and following an injury, it seemed that I was right. Still, neither Jamaal Williams nor Aaron Jones did enough to erase the memories of Montgomery shredding defenses in the passing game. When healthy, and by all accounts he is, he’ll handle the passing downs, and in the 15th round, he’s got far too high a ceiling to not be a target.
3. New England Patriots
Yes, I’m concerned about the Patriots ability to return to the Super Bowl given the on going off season drama, but I’m not concerned about the elite players turning in elite fantasy seasons. Tom Brady may take a bit of a step back this year due to age and unfamiliar pieces, but even a Tom Brady at 90% is better than most in a league that values decision making and smarts. It’s the run game that could potentially produce the biggest surprises in New England this year.
Players Worth Drafting: Rob Gronkowski (ADP 19), Tom Brady (ADP 31), Sony Michel (ADP 51), Chris Hogan (ADP 69), Julian Edelman (ADP 80), Rex Burkhead (ADP 114), James White (ADP 145), Jordan Matthews (ADP 188)
With 1st round back Sony Michel the first NE back coming off the board, it sure seems like the public believes the Patriots are going to do what every other NFL franchise does when it drafts a player that high. I’ll go out on a limb and say that, while Michel is a nice player, it’s Rex Burkhead that’s the Patriot to own at running back. His versatility and rapport with Brady is undeniable, and with less time to prepare thanks to his off season hold out, Brady will need to lean on Hogan and Burkhead to get the offense going.
Deep Sleeper: I may be a bit higher on Jordan Matthews than most, but I see a low risk pick that has the chance to start the season as the top slot option in a passing attack that targets it’s slot receivers at a higher rate than most of the league. With Edelman missing 4 games and over a year removed from playing football, there’s a very good chance that this is Matthews best chance to showcase his skills.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles are a team on the rise. With a capable backup quarter back, even a delay in the return of franchise QB Carson Wentz isn’t a death sentence for the elite players this roster boasts. Zach Ertz is a no doubt TE in any format, as he continues to be the top target in the red zone. Alshon Jeffrey and Nelson Agholor return as a fantasic complimentary duo, with both players a threat to his 800-1000 yards.
Players Worth Drafting: Zach Ertz (ADP 32), Jay Ajayi (ADP 43), Alshon Jeffrey (ADP 46), Carson Wentz (ADP 53), Nelson Agholor (ADP 117), Corey Clement (ADP 181)
Targeting a running back here could get tricky. You may be tempted to jump early at Ajayi after he posted some pretty impressive numbers in an Eagles uniform. I’d caution against it. While he certainly has the skills, he’s in an unenviable position of being type cast in the early down role with Darren Sproles handling the passing downs and Corey Clement chewing into red zone touches.
Deep Sleeper: Currently falling into the “undrafted” category, Darren Sproles returns as the primary pass catcher for the Eagles. While the diminutive scat-back certainly has the injury history to make one squeamish, he also has the skills to haul in 50+ balls from the waiver wire.
1. Minnesota Vikings
It may surprise you to see the Vikings here, but after paying big money to bring in Kirk Cousins, the offense in Minnesota now features a top 20 player at every counting position, and several top 10 candidates. Kirk Cousins’ big arm should only help Diggs close the game with Thielen (if not pass him) and a Dalvin Cook/Latavius Murray backfield should scare defensive coordinators who want to abandon the box to stop the down the field passing.
Players Worth Drafting: Dalvin Cook (ADP 14), Adam Thielen (ADP 25), Stefon Diggs (ADP 35), Kirk Cousins (ADP 76), Kyle Rudolph (ADP 84), Latavius Murray (ADP 155)
You may be wondering why Cook is being valued as high as he is after only playing 4 games as a rookie before suffering a big time injury. The truth is that, while he could certainly return a different player, it’s expected he’ll return healthy and continue to receive a three down workload. In those 4 games he averaged over 5 receptions and 100 combined yards, further supporting Minnesota’s intentions to use him even on passing downs.
Deep Sleeper: Allow me to talk out of the other side of my mouth for a moment and plug Latavius Murray as one of my favorite deep sleepers of the year. With Cook’s return imminent, his draft value continues to fall, making the former Raider a fantastic value given how well he played in Cooks absence last year. I’ve sung his praises in years past, and the freak athleticism he possesses should help him see the field regardless of Cooks’ effectiveness upon his return.
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.
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.
Eli Manning – New York Giants | ADP 127 – QB 16| Manning had a down season last year finishing as the 19th best QB, but in true Giants fashion, this offseason was about bulking up his receiving corps by adding former Bear / Jet Brandon Marshall. With the backfield in flux, Manning is going to be asked to throw it and throw it a ton. Prediction: 4,600 yards – 33 TDs – 16 INT
Joe Flacco – Baltimore Ravens | ADP 179 – QB24 | I was vocal in my support of Joe Flacco from a sleeper perspective even before they added Jeremy Maclin and Danny Woodhead to his cache of weapons. With a favorable schedule and the commitment of his front office, Flacco can be expected to approach career numbers. Prediction: 4,300 yards – 25 TDs – 11 INT
Carson Wentz – Philadelphia Eagles | ADP 128 – QB 18| Coming off the board in the 13th round, second year QB Carson Wentz already proved he can operate an NFL offense. Give him a bonafide #1 WR in Alshon Jefferey and a balanced running attack featuring bruiser LeGarette Blount, and Wentz is primed to take the leap. Prediction: 4,200 yards – 28 TDs – 13 INT
Honorable Mention: Sam Bradford, Min (ADP 170+)
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.
Last season saw the rookie duo of Zeke Elliot and Dak Prescott carry the Dallas Cowboys to a division championship and an 8-2 run to close the season pushed the Giants into the wild card round in what looks to be one of the most stacked divisions in football once again. Both teams have plenty to be concerned with as Philly and Washington both closed the gap in the offseason.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Carson Wentz (QB21), LeGarrett Blount (RB28), Darren Sproles (RB55), Alshon Jeffrey (WR13), Jordan Matthews (WR45), Zach Ertz (TE10)
Synopsis – While the Eagles managed a 3-0 start to the season, by the end of the year it was painfully obvious that young QB Carson Wentz needed more reliable weapons. He receives those in the form of jump ball specialist Alshon Jeffrey and bruising running back LeGarrett Blount to complement an improving Zach Ertz. Nelson Agholor falls off the radar completely, but Jordan Matthews figures to man the slot and Darren Sproles should reprise his role as the primary passing down back.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Kirk Cousins (QB7), Robert Kelley (RB31), Samaje Perine (RB35), Terrelle Pryor (WR20), Jamison Crowder (WR32), Josh Doctson (WR55), Jordan Reed (TE5)
Synopsis – One massive franchise tag later and the Washington Redskins return their wildly successful QB under center, and as the fates would have it Cousins has a new toy to play with. Converted QB Terrelle Pryor has elevated himself to WR2 status after a monster year in Cleveland and expects even better this year in Washington. Still, there are plenty of targets to go around for Crowder and a healthy Doctson. In the backfield, Kelley is expected to reprise the starting role, but rumors persist that Perine may be in line for some work should he falter.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Dak Prescott (QB9), Ezekiel Elliott (RB3), Dez Bryant (WR9) Cole Beasley (WR71), Jason Witten (TE16)
Synopsis – Prior to last year we had no idea Dak Prescott would push Elliott for the rookie of the year. This year, there are no such misconceptions as Dallas returns its potent two headed monster and hopes for a healthy year out of Dez Bryant. Under appreciated slot man Cole Beasley expects to far outperform his draft position with another 70 receptions, and the ageless Jason Witten is a safe TE2 who could score a bunch of TDs.
New York Giants
Notable Fantasy Stars: Eli Manning (QB19) Paul Perkins (RB30), Shane Vereen (RB72), Odell Beckham Jr. (WR4), Brandon Marshall (WR34), Sterling Shephard (WR54)
Synopsis – Not to be outdone by the rest of the East, the Giants went out and added former WR1 in Brandon Marshall, pointing towards a year in which Eli Manning does most of the offensive work. Paul Perkins should still see plenty of work on the ground (and Vereen on third downs) but this team is going to pass first and pass often. OBJ will still be the teams #1 but Sterling Shephard may take a bit of a hit with attention being given elsewhere.
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.
- 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.
The frustration is real as fantasy owner when a player you invest heavily in doesn’t return that investment. We see it every year, and subsiquently that players value drops, leaving him falling on draft day. Are you an owner who likes to grab a previously touted player in hopes that he’ll bounce back and pay off in spades in the later rounds? If you are, and I’d gamble most of us are, then keep reading for a list of bounce back candidates.
QB – Robert Griffin III : Injuries that derailed his electric rookie seaon can be pointed to as the cause for the mental issues that have since plauged the outlandishly athletic Griffin in seasons since. It’s gotten so bad that at the conclusion of this last season, Jay Gruden alluded to the fact that he no longer believed in his QB and speculation that he’d be dealt or demoted ran rampant. Fast forward to the post-draft news and we see that RG3 is back again in the drivers seat for the QB job in Washington, and I’m confident that a new Griffin will be taking the field this year. Time to adjust to the game and to his injury history should allow Griffin to return to a semblance of the player we saw his rookie year: a rocket arm, good decision making, and the ability to make something out of nothing. Although he won’t finish as a top 10 QB, I expect him to bounce back as a solid QB2 worth a late round pick if you’re in need.
QB – Sam Bradford : Another highly touted prospect coming out of college, Bradford has shown glimses in his brief career, but a hefty injury history has left him on the scrap heap come draft day as owners have grown weary of the letdown. Shifting from St. Louis to Philadelphia should work wonders for Bradford on the field. He finally has weapons around him and a running game to keep defenses honest. He may be an in vogue pick come draft day, but if he starts the year healthy (and this is always an if with Bradford) I expect a much better year than he’s given in the past.
RB – Doug Martin : A lot of owners watched their ships go down in flames when they invested a top 5 pick in Martin a few years ago. Last year, Tampa Bay was the worst team in the league, securing the #1 overall pick and finally shoring up a QB position that features Mike Glennon as the top guy. I’d argue it’s tough to find running room when your team can’t complete more than 10 passes in a game. Still the top option in Tampa Bay, Martin should find more success after finding himself under 100 fantasy points last year. He could likely be had as a 4th RB, and should far outperform this ranking.
RB – LeSean McCoy : McCoy had 175-180 points in PPR formats last year, but was disappointing in terms of consistency. He touched the ball more than 300 times but struggled to return the top 3 pick spent on him. He’ll likely still be drafted early but has the pedigree and the situation to replicate the 1500-2000 total yard years that we’d become accostumed to out of McCoy.
WR – Larry Fitzgerald : For some, this was just the writing on the wall as Fitzgerald found himself scoring at or under 10 points per week for the first time in his career. The problem was that after Carson Palmer went down, John Skelton and company couldn’t keep the offense clicking, and Fitzgerald suffered. A Healthy Palmer creates more opportunities for Fitzy and inside the 20’s he’s the go to guy, and I expect him to crack to finish inside the top 25 WR’s this year.
WR – Dwayne Bowe : A supremely talented wideout, Bowe has never had a great QB throwing him the football, and that won’t change this coming year. But being a number 1 on an offense that managed to coax good to great seasons out of Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron and Andrew Hawkins will help Bowe regain some of that swagger he had before Alex Smith got to KC. He won’t challenge for the top spot, but Bowe is an afterthought in leagues but should provide some scoring punch from the bench, for byes and in case of injuries.
TE – Vernon Davis : A freak of nature, Davis has the skills at the TE position to dominate his competition. This wasn’t the case this year as Kaepernick struggled to find consistency. If offseason reports of improved pocket pressence and throwing motion are true, Kaep could bounce back and this would impact Davis the most. Expect the consistency to continue to frustrate, but he’ll jump back in to the top 15 TE’s.
TE – Kyle Rudolph : He may have all the tools to be the best TE in football, but he’s rarely put it all together. Another year of Teddy Bridgewater and the return of AP makes this Minnesotta offense formidible for the first time in a long time. Without a proven #1 wide receiver, a healthy Rudolph could be asked to do more than he has. I think this is the year we finally see Rudolph ascend to an elite TE.
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.