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Editor's note: This is Part 2 in a several part series where we dissect each offensive fantasy position and tell you what happened this season (2016) and how you can apply those lessons into your draft for next season (2017). You can check out all the lessons learned from quarterbacks (now available by clicking here), wide receivers, and tight ends throughout the offseason.
Editor's note: This is Part 1 in a several part series where we dissect each offensive fantasy position and tell you what happened and how you should apply what happened this year into your draft's next year. You can check out all the lessons learned from running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends by clicking the blue links that correspond with their names.
When it comes to succeeding in fantasy football over the course of a season, it's important to know which players are on the rise and which ones are about to see a dropoff in production. In this article, we give you a few players that could help or hurt your fantasy team as the season goes along.
Jordan Howard, Running Back for the Chicago Bears
The end of the short Jeremy Langford era is upon us. Langford suffered an ankle injury in the loss to the Cowboys and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. Even before suffering the injury, Jordan Howard had more carries than Langford. There is already speculation that Howard will remain the starting running back for the Bears even after the return of Langford. In the limited time Howard has had on the field, he has made the most of it, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. This is 2 more YPC than Langford. Ka’Deem Carey is also not expected to play his week. I expect Howard to prove himself as the best running back on the Bears and keep the starting role the rest of the season. You may still be able to get him for a relatively low price, but that won’t last for long.
Dez Bryant, Wide Receiver for the Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys pass offense has looked a little different this year. It has featured much less Dez Bryant and much more Cole Beasley. I don’t think this is going to change while Dak Prescott is at quarterback. Prescott is still new to the NFL, and while he’s played well for the most part, he’s still a rookie. He’s not going to make the same plays that Tony Romo would. Jerry Jones has expressed that as soon as Romo is healthy, he will be the starting quarterback, which is huge for Bryant’s value. Romo is expected to miss 6-10 weeks, which puts him right back in the lineup before the playoffs. You don’t necessarily need to make a trade tomorrow for Dez, but keep your eye on him. If he still is putting up very inconsistent games you can probably get a good deal for him.
Matt Ryan, Quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons
I never would have thought Matt Ryan would be the #1 fantasy quarterback three weeks into the season. His top ranking isn’t going to last forever. Through the first three games of the season, the Falcons played Tampa Bay, Oakland, and New Orleans. They rank 20th, 32nd, and 25th respectively in passing yardage allowed per game. The next three weeks the Falcons play Carolina, Denver, and Seattle. They rank 5th, 4th, and 2nd respectively in passing yards allowed per game. They each have allowed on average the following number of fantasy points per game to the opposing quarterback: Carolina 13.5, Denver 13.8, and Seattle 10.1. He does have some more favorable matchups later in the season, but his value is not going to be higher than it is now.
LeGarrette Blount, Running Back for the New England Patriots
Blount has had a great start to the season. He currently leads to league in rushing attempts (75), yards (298), and is tied for first in touchdowns (4). I believe this is mostly due to Tom Brady’s suspension. Last season the Patriots were tied for 25th in team rushing attempts. Once Brady is back I expect to Patriots to resume “business as usual” with their future hall of fame quarterback. Just like last season Blount will have his big games, but he is not going to be the workhorse that he is now. I expect James White to get into the game more with Brady back too. Blount has yet to catch a pass this season, and we all know how well Dion Lewis and James White were last year. You may get one more great game from Blount but don’t expect that to keep up.
Keep for now:
Coby Fleener, Tight End for the New Orleans Saints
Fleener finally rewarded fantasy owners this past week with a big game, and that will continue to happen. The Saints are going to have to air the ball out every week to try and win. It has taken a little bit more time than expected for Fleener to get a feel of the offense, but he looks to have a grasp on it now. I am still as high on Fleener as I was when I wrote about him this season. Fleener is second in targets to Brandin Cooks with 23, and his targets have increased each game: Week 1 (4), Week 2 (8), and Week (11). Fleener will continue to get more comfortable with the offense, and will be productive. The Saints show no signs of being able to stop a team on offense (I’m calling the Giants game a fluke). Fleener is also a great buy-low candidate, but his stock is on the rise.
It’s been a long time since the Packers had a tight end even remotely fantasy relevant. Richard Rodgers finished as the No. 9 TE last season, but he’s not getting the title of ‘fantasy relevant’ yet. Rodgers caught one hail mary against the Lions which accounted for 61 yards and a touchdown. If you get rid of that play his stat line goes drops to 58/449/7, which makes him TE 12.
Even though TE 12 doesn’t seem terrible, Rodgers was so inconsistent he would’ve been a big gamble to start. He only posted 4 games with double-digit points (3 discounting the hail mary catch) while also posting 8 games under four points.
The last time the Packers had a startable tight end was in 2011 when Jermichael Finley was the fifth best TE. Finley’s career was riddled with injuries and after a serious neck injury, Finley had to retire. Like Rodgers, he posted 4 games with double digit fantasy points but had only 5 games under four points. Still not the production of a great fantasy option.
Jared Cook signed with the Packers during free agency. He has never played with an elite quarterback during his career. From 2009-2012 when Cook played for the Titans, his quarterbacks included Vince Young, Kerry Collins, Matt Hasselbeck, and Jake Locker. From 2013 - 2015, Cook played with Sam Bradford, Kellen Clemens, Austin Davis, Shaun Hill, Nick Foles, and Case Keenum. During that time, Cook’s best fantasy year was in 2013 when he finished as the 11th best TE.
Aaron Rodgers is by far the best quarterback the Jared Cook has even played with, and I expect a top 12 finish from Cook provided he is the starter. I believe that part of the reason that Jared Cook has never lived up to expectations is because he’s never had a reliable guy getting him the football. Cook has all the attributes to be a top tight end in the league. He has elite speed, posting a 4.49 forty yard dash in the combine in 2009. Even if his speed has dropped off a bit, he’s still one of the fastest tight ends in the game.
Vernon Davis and Jared Cook boast very similar skill sets. In the combine Davis posted a 4.38 forty yard dash, a 42 inch vertical leap while measuring in at 6’3”, 254 pounds. Cook had a vertical leap of 41 inches, and measured in at 6’5”, 254. The big difference between the two is Davis has played with a reliable quarterback for part of his career.
Cook does have some injury concerns. Currently Cook is recovering from foot surgery that he had in June. He should be ready to go for the start of the regular season, and maybe even some of the preseason. It’s important for Cook to get some work in with Aaron Rodgers. Missing practices could result in a slower start to the season for Cook.
The only way Cook could be a tight end worthy of starting is if he’s the unquestioned starter. If Richard Rodgers is the starter or if they split time, Cook will not put up great numbers. Neither player will have much value if they split time on the field.
Keep watching reports on which Packers’ tight end is practicing with the first team. Once Cook begins practicing it will be interesting to see how he and Richard Rodgers split first team reps. I would expect to see Jared Cook become the starting tight end, even if it isn’t right away. Cook is currently ranked by FantasyPros at TE 21, and 177th overall. He’s a great option for a late-round flier who has TE1 potential.
Gut feelings aren't a term many numbers-based analysts like to hear about in fantasy football, but there is value in simply drafting a player based on his overall talent combined with his ADP (average draft position) value and likely role on his respective team. Here are five players we're interested in adding to our fantasy teams for all of those variables.
1. Jeremy Maclin, wide receiver for Kansas City Chiefs
Average draft position: WR23 (50th overall)
Why we want him: One word. Volume. Maclin was, and still is, the No. 1 wide receiver on an offense that values efficiency over flashiness and the results are just as deadly for your fantasy opponents if you end up going with the 28-year-old receiver. Through 16 games played last season, Maclin saw at least 9 targets in eight games and averaged 8.3 targets for this season. That's the kind of consistency you want from a WR2/3.
Though he didn't blow up all that much (only three 100-plus yard receiving efforts), he had just two true down weeks where he scored 2 points or less. The rest of the time he hovered around the 50-60 yard mark and cashed in eight touchdowns. With Alex Smith and Andy Reid running the exact same offense that made Maclin successful last season, no injuries to halt his progress and still in the prime of his career, Maclin is a near lock to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark again and score on a consistent enough basis to be well worth his fourth or fifth round ADP value.
2. Larry Fitzgerald, wide receiver for Arizona Cardinals
Average draft position: WR27 (60th overall)
Why we want him: For similar reasons to Maclin, Fitzgerald is a target hog. He averaged nine targets per game last season on a team with several other receiving weapons that could've devalued the future Hall of Fame receiver. Instead, Fitzgerald continued to prove just how valuable he was in the slot by catching 109 passes for over 1,219 yards and 9 touchdowns.
At 32 years of age, Fitzgerald might drop off a tad but his ADP is currently hovering around receivers like Jordan Matthews and Emmanuel Sanders, two players who are a bigger risk due to potential poor quarterback play. Expect Fitzgerald to be the least likely bust of the two due to his velcro hands and big body still providing plenty of matchup nightmares over the middle of the field.
3. Duke Johnson, running back for Cleveland Browns
Average draft position: RB27 (No. 76 overall).
Why we want him: Receiving running backs are always a great bargain in the later rounds and Johnson is slated to assume the passing-down role in Cleveland. Johnson gets the benefit of playing in a run-friendly system under Hue Jackson and shouldn't fall victim to poor game script in Cleveland's potentially bad offense. Point being — his receiving ability will keep him on the field in blowout losses. Johnson also has the instincts of a quality NFL running back and can see and hit running lanes that most running backs can't.
Some may argue Johnson's Cleveland teammate Isaiah Crowell is the better bargain due to his inside running ability and touchdown potential, but there is some belief that Johnson is capable of seeing more than just screen passes on third down. This article from Joe Holka summed it up best. Overall, there's more potential in Johnson turning into a receiving and rushing back than there is Crowell turning into a receiving and rushing back.
The one big issue with Duke Johnson though is his injury history and carries a 82% injury risk per Sports Injury Predictor. You could also argue his ADP is a bit too high given that you can get guys like Giovani Bernard and Frank Gore for around the same price. Still, we think Jackson's presence as an RB-guru is one of his best fantasy weapons since he'll still see some carries and his receiving ability and instincts as a football player are off the charts. Those should outweigh the risks.
4. Martellus Bennett, tight end for New England Patriots
Average draft position: TE14 (147th overall)
Why we want him: Potential Rob Gronkowski value without the Gronk price. Tight ends are a fascinating position for fantasy football this season because there are so many boom/bust options in the later rounds. However, you'd be hard-pressed to find more value for a tight end than in the Patriots offense. To give you an idea, backup tight end Scott Chandler scored four touchdowns last season as a No. 2 tight end to Gronkowski.
When Gronkowski suffered an injury (a more common theme than people might think), Chandler saw 18 targets over the next two games. It's safe to say Bennett is a much better athlete than Chandler and is just a few years removed from a Pro Bowl season with the Chicago Bears. His current ADP means you can get him in the later rounds of your draft and Jason Witten, Dwayne Allen and Antonio Gates are all good options, Bennett has the chance to be a Top 5 tight end in the right circumstances.
5. Kirk Cousins, quarterback for Washington Redskins
Average draft position: QB14 (115th overall)
Why we want him: OK, to be fair, there are a couple other quarterbacks in this range that would be just as good to have (Eli Manning, Tony Romo to name a few) but Cousins has some added benefits that these other quarterbacks don't have. For one, the Redskins have one of the deepest groups at wide receiver in the NFL to go along with an elite tight end in Jordan Reed. Cousins also plays in a quarterback friendly offense that has been known to produce 30-touchdown passers.
He's also playing in a contract season (I know, maybe it doesn't mean much) but he has every incentive to pile on the stats this season in hopes of landing a big deal next offseason. Cousins also has the added benefit of playing the Dallas Cowboys defense (a depleted unit) twice and gets another weak defense in the New York Giants twice as well. His current ADP means he'll be available near the end of your draft so it would be wise to take him as your backup quarterback at least, though he'll likely finish with QB1 numbers this season.
In 2015, you had running back rookie class that was considered among the best in recent memory. It included the likes of Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Ameer Abdullah, Tevin Coleman, David Johnson, and Duke Johnson. Several of those running backs turned in memorable rookie seasons, with Gurley finishing as a top 5 fantasy back after placing third overall in rushing yards (1,106) behind Doug Martin and Adrian Peterson. David Johnson wasn't far behind after a strong second half of the year landed him seventh overall among fantasy running backs and catapulted him to RB1 status seemingly overnight.
Even so, there was another rookie running back who turned in an equally impressive fantasy season without overly gaudy stats, and that back was Jacksonville Jaguars T.J. Yeldon. Drafted late in the first round, Yeldon compiled over 1,000 yards combined rushing and receiving and finished with 120 fantasy points to finish 28th overall among RBs in standard scoring leagues. While his yardage numbers were there, his lack of touchdowns (just 3 combined rushing and receiving) were the main culprit in draining his potential value. Injuries also caused Yeldon to miss four games in 2015.
So to combat Yeldon's goal-line woes, the Jags brought in Chris Ivory from the New York Jets. Ivory turned in best season of his career by far in 2015, rushing for over 1,000 yards for the first time and scoring 7 times. The Jags signed Ivory to a five-year, $32 million contract with $10 million guaranteed, which makes him the seventh highest-paid RB in the NFL. The only problem is Ivory did all this as the Jets clear No. 1 running back, with only Bilal Powell seeing 70 rush attempts compared to Ivory's 247. There's no way Yeldon sees just 70 rush attempts in 2016 barring injury.
If you want Yeldon on your fantasy team this season, you're going to have to deal with Ivory stealing touches in some form given the amount Jacksonville invested in him. But despite two potential starting running backs on their roster that the franchise invested a lot of money/draft capital in, there's reason to believe Yeldon will be the more trustworthy back when it comes to consistency.
When it comes to drafting a potential RB2, you want someone who sees at least 10-12 carries a game and has a decent shot at scoring a touchdown any week of the season. Yeldon definitely fits that bill. First, he saw 182 rushes in 12 games which was good for 15 carries per game. He also saw 28 carries inside the red zone in 2015, leading all Jacksonville rushers. Despite all his chances around the goal line though, Yeldon only managed to cram the ball into the end zone two times. Historically, touchdown rate can vary greatly from year to year among running backs, so thinking Yeldon will be as ineffective as he was last season around the goal line might lead to disappointment.
If you're worried about one of the running backs getting hurt, you're not taking any more of less of a chance drafting either one. Ivory has an extensive injury season dating back to his rookie season and he also missed 10 games in 2012 after suffering a fracture in his foot.
Yeldon hasn't been a model of health either dating back to his college days at Alabama. He was consistently bothered by hamstring and ankle injuries in college that kept him from playing at 100 percent. He also missed a game midway through the 2015 NFL season with a pulled groin and missed the last three games of the year with a sprained MCL. It's safe to say you're taking a chance no matter which of these two backs you draft this season.
Can Ivory be just as effective as a receiver?
While not as elusive in the open field as Yeldon, Ivory did post a respectable 30 catches last season, which were a career-high for him. He also bested Yeldon in YAC per catch, gaining 9.5 yards to Yeldon's 8.1. At just 27 years old, Ivory is still in the prime of his career and shouldn't be discounted because Yeldon is only 22 years old.
Who's the better value?
Reports out of camp have Ivory as the back more likely to assume the starting role in Jacksonville, but that could be a blessing in disguise for Yeldon. Coaches can change their offensive philosophy at the drop of a hat if a running back is getting repeatedly stone-walled at the line of scrimmage. We saw Ivory struggle with 26 yards on 23 carries in a game last season. You have to figure Yeldon will likely see a healthy dose of carries if Ivory struggles and vice versa.
As far as their current ADP goes, Ivory is going at RB29 while Yeldon is RB36 so you might be able to get Yeldon one or even two rounds later. Given Ivory's injury history, Yeldon is the better value as of right now. He'll be able to choose his spots more and be a more efficient running back while still seeing valuable snaps and assume a crucial receiving role out of the backfield. You could argue Ivory is more valuable because he'll get the goal line work but you have to wonder if Yeldon is more effective throughout the game, he'll be the one to punch the ball into the end zone. As of now, take Yeldon in the later rounds as an RB2/flex guy and draft a running back who's a bit more upside in the earlier rounds before Ivory.