With the offseason well underway, and the NFL draft looming in the distance, the time is now to evaluate the many moves that went down following the start of free agency. Over the next week, we’ll evaluate each position individually, and attempt to break down the impact of each move to this point.
Kirk Cousins Signs With Vikings:
With the ink drying on Kirk Cousins’ 84 million dollar contract, the fantasy community stirred in it’s offseason slumber. While too many unanswered questions rest between here and fantasy drafts, this represented the first major offseason domino in many to come. The question remains, though; what does this mean for fantasy owners?
A top 5 season is a general expectation, especially considering that Cousins finished 6th in standard ESPN leagues last year. Minnesota’s roster is litered with game breakers, and a more consistent run game should mean a more consistent threat to score for the Vikings new signal caller. With their sights set on the super bowl, the Vikings should be a great source of fantasy contributors, and Cousins should be a target for anyone.
Alex Smith Signs with Washington:
Replacing Cousins in Washington will be Alex Smith, the notorious game manager previously starting for the Kansas City Cheifs. His track record is far from inspiring, but surprisingly enough he managed to finish as the fourth highest scoring quarter back in standard ESPN leagues last year.
Much of that can be attributed to the lack of healthy QB’s, but Washington presents a unique challenge in terms of predicting success. No longer stocked with weapons like Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, Smith will instead be throwing to a stable of unproven youngsters and oft-injured tight ends. Whether or not he’s a target come draft day depends on what the community suggests his average draft position is. A low end QB1 is as good as I’ll give him at this point, but may not select him as anything but flier in the later rounds, assuming he falls that far.
Case Keenum Signs With Denver:
Continuing the trend of displaced QB’s, Minnesota’s surprising star Case Keenum moves on to Denver after a season that witnessed him outscore superstars like Matt Ryan, Derek Carr, and Jameis Winston. While it’s fair to question the validity of those numbers, as Keenum was viewed mostly as a backup to this point, there’s not a lot of drop off in terms of talent around him going to Denver.
Elite wideouts Demarius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders should help him continue to produce, and an elite defense should give him plenty of opportunity to score points. While I won’t say he’s ready for prime time, another top 15 finish isn’t out of the question.
Tyrod Taylor Traded To Cleveland Browns:
While it’s with a great deal of consternation that I even include a Browns QB in this article, the truth is that Taylor has been a very productive fantasy QB over the last few years, and should have plenty of opportunity in Cleveland with the weapons surrounding him. Elite wide outs Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry present a major upgrade to what he found himself working with in Buffalo, and two capable pass catchers out of the backfield in Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson mean Taylor’s ability to run will be on full display as teams will be forced to respect the weapons around him.
Does this mean I’ll be reaching in drafts to select a Browns QB? Absolutely not, but as a back end top 10 QB, Taylor may have the moxie to bring fantasy success to teams in the middle to late rounds thanks to what has become the curse of playing for Cleveland.
Sam Bradford Signs With Arizona Cardinals:
The biggest risk in the NFL in terms of fantasy quarterbacks has got to be the always injured Bradford. Every year it’s the same thing; superlative starts make way to lengthy DL stints and surgery. While my personal opinion is Bradford is no more than a last round flyer, the Arizona Cardinals present an opportunity for him to bounce back into fantasy owners good graces.
With enough weapons to be successful, and a run-first scheme that may help him stay healthy, Bradford should be on your radar in the preseason as a backup candidate. When healthy, he’s a top 15 QB, but I’d be willing to bet we’ll be seeing an Arizona backup by week 6.
Honorable Mention: Jimmy Garoppolo signed a massive deal to stay in San Fransisco, and the fantasy community is chomping at the bit to see what he can do with a full seasons worth of reps. Teddy Bridgewater, the least impactful of the Minnesota triumverate that departed in the offseason, finds himself in the Jets’ backfield as a potential starter. The talent is there, but questions surround his surgically repaired knee. Andrew Luck has resumed throwing, and while there’s plenty of concern that his career may never get back on track, the pedigree is there for the man to be a top 5 QB again. With less risk in late rounds, he’s a nice bounce back target that costs nothing if he never returns to form.
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.
- 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.
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.
As the NFL’s dog days settle in, we long for the hooplah that surrounded the draft. We pray to the football gods that a wacky Chip Kelley roster move falls in our laps. We ask that we never have to hear the words “deflated football” again in our lives. Instead we’re left reading reports of how every disappointing player is wowing in whatever camp is being participated in or how backup quarterbacks everywhere are competing to take the starting gig.
So, inspite of my fears that this is far to early to look at the NFL’s fantasy landscap, I’ll begin breaking down the pieces each NFL franchise may showcase come your very own Fantasy draft day. We’ll examine each teams skill positions and rank them from 32 to 1.
Without further adue… drum roll please!
32. Cleveland Browns
No other franchise in the NFL has swung and missed on a QB more than the Cleveland Browns. The most important position on the field, QB is the one position every NFL team focuses on, but Cleveland has a depth chart that has 35 year old journey man Josh McCown on top of their failed experiment of Johnny “football” Manziel. On top of that, Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline were brought in to bolster a dismal WR corps, but achieved nothing but making them more mediocre. Despite having a solid stable of RB’s on the roster, this offense is so disfunctional I’d be surprised if they had room to run. Worth Drafting: Dwayne Bowe is a risky pick, but at least he’s his teams #1 option. Isaiah Crowell should be a top 20 back unless Duke Johnson impresses early. I wouldn’t waste a pick in the first 5 rounds on this team.
31. New York Jets
In a similar fashion to Cleveland, the Jets experimented with Geno Smith, and decided that Ryan Fitzpatrick would give them the best chance to win. No fantasy owner would agree. Brandon Marshall is a marquee name, and Fitzpatrick didn’t kill Andre Johnson’s value in Hou, so he may still be worth a pick, but beyond him Decker and Kerley should prove to be inconsistent. Chris Ivory is a steady back but with the addition of Ridley and Zac Stacy, who knows which guy will lead the team. Worth Drafting: I’m sure someone in your league will draft Ryan Fitzpatrick; don’t be that guy. Marshall is an intriguing pick as the Jets haven’t had a goal line guy for a while and they may lean heavily on him, not a WR1 but could have value if he falls. Ivory quietly put together a decent season last year, so I’d think he’ll come out of the gates on top, but I wouldn’t waste and early pick. Ridley and Stacy are both risky, and may only be valuable as a handcuff if it becomes more clear before the season starts who is the #2.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville is a team on the rise, but will still suffer short term as Blake Bortles and his young WR’s become aclimated to the league. Bortles has the tools to be a good NFL quarterback, but as young as this offense is, he’ll struggle with consistency. TJ Yeldon will likely carry the torch at RB, and should be worth a middle round pick, especially in keeper formats. At WR things are a little murky. There won’t be a huge number of passes to go around, so a big week followed by a zero could have fantasy owners screaming. Julius Thomas should still be a top 10 TE even in this offense. Worth Drafting: Bortles is a project and should be drafted with this in mind. Yeldon has a chance to come out and put up good fantasy numbers, watch carefully as the team may announce him starting over Gerhart before the season starts. Marquise Lee has the most upside of the WR corps but it’s Julius Thomas as a saftey blanket for the young QB who warrants the highest value.
29. St. Louis Rams
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think Nick Foles is going to be able to handle the lack of protection that St. Louis has been famous for. He won’t have Chip Kelly’s schemes to protect him either, so I have very little faith that Foles will return to a top 15 QB. Todd Gurley looks to be a generational talent, but inuries should limit him in year one, and Tre Mason is a solid but unspectacular RB for fantasy purposes. WR is a soft spot here with Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt being marginal at best atop the depth charts. Jared Cook could be the one fantasy expection with nearly 700 yards last year. At a shallow TE position, he could be worth a pick. Worth Drafting: Foles was average in Philadelphia’s offense, so I expect him to be worth a late round QB2 or bench spot pick. Todd Gurley should be drafted with the understanding he won’t contribute early, and likely valued too high in keeper leagues. Kenny Britt as a depth WR or Tavon Austin as a hold your breath flier would be later rounds and Jared Cook could be cheap points at the TE position.
28. Tennessee Titans
Marcus Mariota has some great tools, but he’s still a bit raw when it comes to the NFL game. I don’t expect him to have much fantasy impact early. Bishop Sankey disappointed his NFL owners along with the fantasy world, so they went out and got David Cobb in the draft. Cobb should eat into Sankey’s carries early, but there’s no garuntee that either will see much success. A ton of talent at WR, it’s a crap shoot with who to pick. Kendall Wright should put up solid numbers but with a rookie QB inconsistency could hurt his value, but I’m a firm believer in Delanie Walker and expect him to repeat with a top 10 TE season. Worth Drafting: Mariota should be drafted as a bench QB only. Walker is a safe bet to put up good numbers, and Dorial Green-Beckham as a flier pick could reap huge rewards with his freakish athleticism. Delanie Walker has a lot of value in the red zone, and should be counted on as a top TE in a shallow field.
27. Buffalo Bills
Matt Cassell is a slight upgrade on paper over E.J. Manuel, but he’s not good enough to elevate the offense into the middle of the pack. The biggest question in this offense is LeSean McCoy. He had a ton of touches last year for Philadelphia and could’t put together a season worthy of being a top pick last year. Now he’s wearing a bills logo and things should only be tougher for him. Sammy Watkins is a stud, but opposing teams will be focused on the talented wideout even more now. I’m intrigued by Charles Clay as well. The converted back has tools to make him a mismatch, but Cassell can’t be counted on to keep his numbers up either. Worth Drafting: I’d stay away from either QB unless in a 2QB format league. LeSean McCoy should be counted on to touch the ball 15-20 times a game, but is a huge risk at his current ADP. Sammy Watkins is a no brainer, but Charles Clay is the toughest to put your finger on. In the later rounds sure, if overvalued due to his success in Miami last year, I’d look elsewhere.
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston is a fine talent, but he’s young and he’s taking over for a team that allowed 52 sacks last season. Mike Evans was a revelation and Vincent Jackson is still a deep threat, but Doug Martin is still a question mark. If the team can’t use him to spell Winston, there could be some growing pains early. I’m not convinced that Austin Sefarian-Jenkins failure to turn into a fantasy option was a result of a terrible passing game. Winston may help revive his prospects. Worth Drafting: Mike Evans will be an early pick based on his athletisism and high ceiling. Vincent Jackson is going to regress eventually, but he’s still worth a WR3. Winston should outperform Mariota in terms of fantasy, but he’s a project that may not reach his hype. Sefarian Jenkins could fall to late in the draft and I’d say he’s a steal there.
25. Washington Redskins
What a mess this organization has become as Dan Snyder wants nothing more than to torment the fans of his storied franchise. Robert Griffin may not have the backing of his Head Coach but ownership has ensure he’ll get the first crack at the job this year. His talent is undeniable, his mental toughness is. If he’s playing his game, defenses can’t defend all of the areas he can attack, adding value to their small but quick recievers. Garcon is a valuable volume reciever when the football is in the air, and DeSean Jackson can still torch a secondary. Two talented TE’s in Jordan Reed and Paul Niles provide nice targets for Griffin but damage each others value significantly if both are healthy. Worth Drafting: Despite not passing the eyeball test, Griffin had a few solid performances down the stretch that show he might be able to turn this thing around. He may be worth a flier if you think so to. Alfred Morris is as boring a pick as they come, but he’s a safe bet to touch the ball 15 times a game. Garcon may have more value in PPR leagues, but DeSean Jackson has shown he can be a difference maker regardless of who is throwing the ball. Injuries derailed Reed’s season and allowed Niles Paul to showcase his skills, but Reed is the more complete fantasy player and warrants a TE2 pick.
24. Houston Texans
Sure, they have Arian Foster who when healthy is among the best at his position. But they lost Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins is being asked to step into his shoes. Last year he was a stud, compiling WR1 numbers with an anemic passing offense. Adding Brian Hoyer may give them a better chance to win, but he’s not going to light up the score board, and this could hurt the WR’s. Jaelen Strong could be a sneaky pick if teams take Hopkins out of games as Cecil Shorts is really only there to stretch the feild. Worth Drafting: Arian Foster should still be considered one of the best in the game, but age and injury concerns could hamstring a fantasy team. DeAndre Hopkins is buzzing now that he occupies the number one spot, but I’m not sure that he’s ready to be the man yet. Jaelen Strong as a rookie has the tools to outperform a flier pick if your filling out your bench.