• This could be the one last good year from Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart

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    North Carolina, come on and raise up, take your DeAngelo Williams shirts off, spin it around your head and then toss them in the closet just in case Williams ends up coming back to Carolina in the twilight of his career. After you're done putting them in a dark space, grab a Jonathan Stewart shirt because this is one of the best seasons to draft the veteran Carolina Panthers running back to your fantasy team.

    When looking for value at running back, there are always places to find good RB2-level players that punch the clock week-in and week-out to give you the blue-collar production. These guys aren't going to get promoted to the CEO of your company anytime soon, but what they do is valuable none the less. They aren't the reason you win, but they're not the reason you lose either. Based on his performance last season and a few other variables, Stewart has the potential to be a solid, consistent RB2 in 2015.

    Where he can still win

    Stewart, who is entering his 8th season with the Panthers, ushered in a comeback of sorts in 2014. His 175 carries were the most he's had since 2010. His 4.6 yards per carry average marked his best since 2011 and he even added a 69-yard run which served as the longest of his career. At 28 years old, his battery is more green than red and he still possesses many of the athletic gifts that he came into the league with back in 2008.

    Stewart still shows good burst when getting up to the line of scrimmage after taking the handoff and has always possessed the vision required to read inside blocks. His lateral jump cuts are still very good which allow him to separate from the defense and although he's not the best when trying to beat defenders to the edge, he can still beat slower defenders with his straight line speed off tackle.

    Where he excels most is on inside runs. Stewart has the size to knock defenders backward upon contact, keeps his feet moving even if it's in another direction after the hit and loves to employ the spin move to shed tackles. In fact, on one of his best touchdown runs of 2014, you'll see him spin out of two tackles all while keeping his feet moving. He's also a fundamentally sound pass blocker, which keeps him in on valuable third downs.

    Stewart's style of running doesn't lend itself to durability. He creates yardage through contact by using size, churning legs and thick frame to break arm tackles. It's no wonder his ground and pound style caused him to miss more than half a season in 2013 and seven games in 2012. But there's still reason for optimism regarding Stewart as a high-end RB2 this season.

    He's now the guy

    Longtime Panther DeAngelo Williams has departed for Pittsburgh, leaving Stewart as the lone feature back for the first time in his career. Stewart's biggest workload came in 2009 with Carolina. With a career-high 221 attempts that season, Stewart rushed for 1,133 yards, 10 touchdowns and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. While it's unlikely Stewart given the ball that many times in 2015, it's not impossible that he sees close to 200 carries. When you extrapolate his yards per carry with his potential attempts, you're looking at a potential 1,000-yard season for Stewart.

    It's not like there's anybody behind him that's really clamoring for carries either. The backfield of Carolina currently consists of Fozzy Whittaker, Jordan Todman, and Auburn rookie Cameron Artis-Payne. Whittaker flashed some potential at times last season after struggling with Cleveland as a rookie. He's a bit more of a lateral shaker than Stewart, a guy who can occasionally get past the defense in the open field, something Stewart has lost the ability to do entirely at this point in his career.

    Of the remaining players, fifth-round pick Artis-Payne is likely the only Carolina RB to see time as a starter if Stewart gets injured. Artis-Payne led the SEC in rushing last season and the 5'11, 209 lb back is already 25 years old. Like Stewart, Artis-Payne isn't overly flashy either and he instead wins with his competitiveness. While Artis-Payne definitely has potential, he'll likely only see significant carries if Stewart sees a severe drop in production.

    The other problem with drafting Stewart is you might see some dropoff in the touchdown category. The Panthers are known for using Cam Newton around the goal line but that might change with so much money now invested in their quarterback. The Panthers will want to preserve Newton as much as possible, so goal line rushes might be fewer and far between in 2015.

    Down with his ADP

    According to fantasypros.com, Stewart is being drafted as an RB21, putting him barely inside RB2 value. Other running backs going in similar spots include Andre Ellington, Latavius Murray and Todd Gurley. Murray and Gurley both have question marks since one is playing on a bad Oakland offense with an unproven quarterback while the other is coming off ACL surgery and is expected to be eased into the fold. Ellington, who we've mentioned earlier as a probable injury risk, is probably the best option other than Stewart out of those three.

    You could certainly talk somebody into drafting Ellington given the improvements made along the Cardinals' offensive line and also the return of Carson Palmer. Still, Ellington's injury woes have been a constant problem throughout his early NFL career.

    Even when Ellington played last season, he lost a good deal of explosiveness due to a foot injury. While he's healthy now, Ellington also struggles as an inside runner due to his smaller frame and lack of agility when cutting up field, both skills that Stewart excels at. When it comes to Stewart vs. Ellington at a similar ADP, we would rather have Stewart due to his steadiness and proven ability to run consistently between the tackles.

    Stewart's own health

    You could definitely argue Stewart's injury rap sheet is a cause for concern. He tore his MCL twice between 2013 and 2014 which kept him sidelined for a total of six games. He also had ankle surgery in the 2013 offseason which kept him out for the team's season opener. Given his age at 28 years old in combination to the bigger role he will see in 2015, an injury is definitely not out of the question and perhaps even likely. Because of this, we urge you to draft rookie Artis-Payne as a handcuff if you end up drafting Stewart.

    Still, Stewart's workload has been relatively light over the last three seasons, making him a bit younger for his age. From 2012-13, he only carried the ball 141 times, so he's got less wear and tear than many think. His last two injuries haven't required any major surgery and he's coming off a resurgent 2014 season despite missing three games. If there was any year to draft Stewart, it's 2015.

    The Panthers offensive line

    Carolina struggled to get consistent blocking in 2014 and finished 22nd overall according to Pro Football Focus. Their pass blocking fared worse as they came in at 27th overall with their run blocking faring better at 15th overall.

    The Panthers offensive line has since been revamped, with Kalil and right guard Trai Turner the full-time starters coming back from last season. They replaced struggling left tackle Byron Bell with another struggling tackle in Michael Oher. Oher gave up 93 combined pressures in 27 starts over the past two seasons, which is not what you want out of your most important pass blocker. Oher will have to improve if he excepts to keep his job given the team's $103.8 million investment at the quarterback position. You just can't give up that many sacks.

    The team added some better pieces late last season with the additions of Andrew Norwell at left guard and Mike Remmers at right tackle. A three-year player out of Oregon State that was signed by the Denver Broncos as an undrafted free agent in 2012, Remmers played in all five of the Panthers remaining games including their two playoff games.

    Norwell was signed by the Panthers as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and cracked the starting lineup by Week 7 and the results were eye opening. Stewart rushed for over 100 yards twice in the last four games of the season, including a 155-yard effort against the New Orleans Saints where he averaged a whopping 7.8 yards per carry. With Norwell back, the rushing offense in Carolina appears in good hands.

    Final verdict

    Stewart comes with some injury risk, but he's finally the feature back and the Panthers will look to use him as the bell cow for the foreseeable future. He also still has the talent to play at the NFL level and the offensive line has improved with several key additions in the later stages of 2014. He's a rock solid RB2 in 2015 with potential to approach 1,000 yards rushing.

     

     

     

     

     

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  • Why Andre Ellington shouldn't be the Arizona RB you draft in 2015

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    Duke Ellington famously said 'it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.' For fans of Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington, drafting the Clemson product doesn't mean a thing if it's just a fling.

    That's right. Ellington has long teased fantasy football owners who've drafted him expecting a feature back who can deliver consistent production throughout an entire season. While Ellington is no doubt a talented receiver and runner to the outside, his lack of size and durability throughout his early career leaves questions regarding his status as a true RB1 in fantasy football.

    Injury problems

    The biggest knock on Ellington isn't so much his talent, but his struggle to remain on the field and at 100 percent. Ellington's name frequented the injury reports last season after pulling a muscle in his lower leg known as the peroneous longus, which is a muscle that controls movement in the foot. The injury was enough to keep Ellington operating at less than 100 percent for the entire 2014 season until a hip pointer in Week 13 finally sealed his fate and landed him on the I.R. for the rest of the year.

    When it comes to predicting injuries, it's always important to notice the trends rather than a few chance occurrences. Anybody can get hurt on any play in a contact sport, but noticing players with a consistent injury history can be a good indicator of future issues, and Ellington's injury history is definitely cause for concern.

    Since college, Ellington suffered a torn ligament in his foot which required surgery in 2010 to go along with a sprained ankle that required surgery in 2011. Since entering the NFL, he's dealt with a concussion and a pulled hamstring in 2013 which kept him out of one game during the regular season and also caused him to miss the 2013 Combine. When you factor this was a player drafted as an RB1 in 2014, you're officially taking a big risk.

    How he was used in 2014

    A true feature back, Ellington saw his snap count go from 51 percent in Week 1 to 86 percent by Week 5. Only Matt Forte and DeMarco Murray were on the field more in Week 5. Ellington saw 74 percent of the snaps the following week, which ranked among the Top 10, 64 percent in Week 7, 76 percent in Week 8, 67 percent in Week 9, 80 percent in Week 10, 74 percent in Week 11, and 72 percent in Week 12, which was the last week he was able to play before suffering a hip pointer in Week 13 against Atlanta. He had been struggling in the Atlanta game prior to injury as well, as he also racked up 12 yards on five rushing attempts against arguably the worst run defense in the league.

    Ellington totaled 201 rushing attempts in 2014, nearly double his 118 during his rookie year. But despite his high usage at times, Ellington's snap count didn't translate to great fantasy production. He finished with 122 points in standard rule leagues, which ranked him 20th overall. Even if you extrapolate his 7.4 point average over the last four weeks of the season to make up for his injury, he still only finishes with 150 points which would put him at 16th overall. Not the best sign for a running back used so much in an offense.

    The team around him

    Ellington's value could've been helped by a better quarterback situation. The Cardinals lost Carson Palmer to an ACL tear last season. Keep in mind, Palmer's injury occurred in Week 10, which wasn't too far off from Ellington's Week 13 injury that ended his season. So for those who think the loss of Palmer was a huge detriment to Ellington's value are probably exaggerating just a little bit.

    Still, in Ellington's numbers were abysmal in his last three games without Palmer under center. He averaged 2.3 yards per carry in that span, but two of his three opponents featured the Detroit Lions, a team that ranked in the top 5 in rushing yards allowed, and the Seattle Seahawks, a defense that struggled early but found their groove late.

    With Palmer back, expect Ellington's value to increase slightly but not overly so. Palmer is an accurate passer who's deep ball has slowly become less effective as his career enters its twilight stage.

    In terms of other offseason additions, guard Mike Iupati revamps the offensive line and gives it more of a run-edge. There's a lot to like about the move, but Ellington struggled as an inside runner last season, even though his line last season wasn't so bad either.

    What to watch for when you want to see Ellington do well

    if you invest in Ellington as a fantasy option this season, you should know his core traits and which of those traits are the good ones. Ellington played a big role in the Arizona offense last season. The Cardinals used him in a variety of ways, including on inside runs, stretch plays to the edge, passes over the middle, passes down the sideline via the wheel route and occasionally split him out wide. He excelled the most after the catch, as he's one of the best in the league at catching the ball in traffic and turning upfield as you'll see here.

    Ellington also excelled at runs to the edge of the field. He's one of the better straight-line rushers in the league and his speed toward the sideline causes defenders to take shorter angles which leads to a lot of missed tackles. His ability to run the outside is what makes him an effective running back, as you'll see in the video below.

    Where he struggles

    Ellington's 3.3 yards per carry average last season was the result of a lot of stuffed inside runs. He struggles to break tackles due to lack of size and he hasn't figured out how to consistently gain positive yardage after contact. He also struggles to cut up field on inside runs, often taking too many skip steps before he makes his transition.

    His pass blocking remains one of the biggest weaknesses in his game, as he often lacks the mental processing to diagnose where the blitz is coming from and hasn't shown enough desire to engage bigger defenders. His lack of size hurts him in this area as well, as he often gets knocked back by bigger defenders rushing at him. These are all causes for concern if you're considering Ellington be an RB1 in redraft leagues this season.

    David Johnson stand up

    Another potential problem for Ellington's value is the addition of running back Dustin Johnson. Drafted out of Northern Iowa in the third round, Johnson is a big (6'1, 224 lbs) running back who shows just as impressive a pass catcher as Ellington. He also has the same inside running problems as Ellington does due to lack of breakaway speed and an inability to create yards after contact. In short, he's projecting to be a bigger version of Ellington.

    But unlike Ellington, Johnson hasn't had any significant injuries while in college. So, if I had to put my money on one guy, I'd go with Johnson primarily because of his size and the greater potential he's not a huge injury risk. Johnson will likely see a third-down role early on, so it's best to not draft him in redraft leagues but keep an eye on him throughout the season and get ready to snag him a week or two early in Ellington hits the injury report list again.

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  • C.J. Anderson and the benefits of the slippery running back

    It's funny how players come out of the woodwork. One day an NFL running back is playing behind two running backs and chances are slim he'll see a lick of playing time. Most people only know him as a blip on the depth chart, a player who might come on in the event of a catastrophic turn of events for the starters and even if you do get his shot, he'll likely only end up posting mediocre numbers before the starters return from whatever caused them to come off the field.

    We always have that notion when we watch the NFL, but time and time again a backup will come onto the scene and show us skills that we never thought a backup would have. We ask ourselves questions like 'how did this guy slip through the cracks?' 'Does he do this in practice?' 'Why does that one guy in our league always get to the waiver wire before me? He must have no life.'

    The guy we asked those questions about last year was Broncos' C.J. Anderson, as we enjoyed the roller coaster ride that took us down another surprising turn into the 'who we consider an elite fantasy running back' category. Anderson dazzled those who only heard of the other famous C.J. (2K) before him. Anderson showed quick feet in getting up to the line, a decisive explosion when cutting upfield (perhaps his best trait) and added a eye-opening desire to break tackles through his elite balance and lack of fear when engaging defenders in the open field. It was because of these traits (and several more that we'll mention later in this piece) that led Anderson to become the hottest running back down the stretch of 2014. Considering he only started seven games, it was quite an impression.

    Disclaimer: When identifying a very good fantasy running back, you can simplify everything down to two basic traits before you get into specifics. These are the two basic idea of what a fantasy running back should have.

    1. Talent

    2. Potential for high volume of carries

    Of course, there are many more details to extrapolate from those scenarios, but those are the two overarching traits you must understand while drafting a quality fantasy running back.

    Anderson's talent

    On paper, Anderson doesn't exactly rattle nerves of defenders. He stands at a fun-sized 5'8, 224lbs. His 4.60 speed won't blow the lid of defenses. His one calling card was the 20-yard shuttle, which he posted a combine-high 4.12 seconds for that particular year.

    He doesn't have a breathtaking open field running style like the LeSean McCoy's or Adrian Peterson's of the world. He doesn't even have a nickname yet, as CJ2K has already been taken. Maybe CJ1.5K plus 500 yards receiving would be a reasonable expectation at this point.

    But he offers so much in so many other areas that the idea of him not being a burner almost seems like an afterthought when you watch him play.

    Anderson possesses several highly valuable traits at the NFL level, one of which is elite balance while running through the hole. As Anderson takes a handoff, he shows the kind of burst needed to get to the line of scrimmage quickly enough before the defenders diagnose what hole he's running to. It's not an elite burst, but it's still very good.

    Once at the line of scrimmage, he changes his footwork from long strides into short, choppy steps in order to change direction quickly. This is just before he shows us why he's an elite running back at the NFL level.

    Right before he hits the hole, he shows a very impressive cut upfield which allows him to accelerate through the hole. He lacks a third gear which prevents him from maybe splitting the two deeper defenders, but he still gets a very positive gain on the play.

    Highlight Reel: C.J. Anderson in 2014

     

    Notice how he ramps up his acceleration after putting his foot in the ground and cutting upfield. His balance allows that shift to be a smooth, seamless transition, which is a valuable quality when it comes to gaining a speed advantage on the defense.

    In this second clip, you'll see how his balance and running style allows him to slip past defenders.

    Highlight Reel: C.J. Anderson in 2014

    Notice how his pad level stays low which forces defenders to tackle him at the waist or risk being too high which would give the smaller Anderson a momentum advantage. Anderson stays on an even plane for the entire length of the run aside from when he breaks out of a tackle. His feet are always moving, which allows him to break through arm tackles. His toughness is also on display as he avoids running out of bounds and instead cuts it back and looks to take on more defenders. That's the sign of a true workhorse back.

    In this third clip, you'll see his running style directly translate to points on the field. Watch for the same characteristics I noted above.

    Highlight Reel: C.J. Anderson in 2014

    Another trait Anderson possesses is a high level of mental toughness. He processes a play very quickly which allows him to be one step ahead of the defense mentally at times. Here we see an example of it after the catch.

    One of the backs who I've noticed execute a similar type of elusiveness is Eagles' RB Darren Sproles. Though Sproles is more of a burner and and an explosive back, his low pad level and small frame creates a similar effect on the defender as you'll see below.

    Vision is another key quality to look for. Pay attention to the clip at the bottom of the article and notice how the offensive line is moving to the right, and watch how Anderson has to quickly make the decision to squeeze through a moving hole. Think of it like trying to jump through a hula hoop that's moving to the right and is about 2 inches off the ground. You have to time it just right and keep your feet high enough so you don't trip. Anderson executes it as well as you possibly could. Once Anderson breaks through the first level, his elite acceleration that we mentioned earlier allows him to change gears quickly and get to the outside.

    Saints Yearbook '11: Darren Sproles

    Highlight Reel: C.J. Anderson in 2014

     

     

     

    Whether or not Anderson will get the correct situation is still a mystery. Montee Ball will likely get another shot at some point due the Broncos being so invested in the Wisconsin product. So if Anderson slips up at all, expect there to be a cosmic change in the Broncos' lineup. But as of now, he's the guy. And his talent is second to few in the NFL. He's worth a first-round pick in 2015 due to talent alone.

  • Alfred Morris: Where his fantasy value lies in 2015

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    Catching the ball has become one of the biggest assets a running back can have both in the NFL and fantasy football. It's no surprise you see RBs like Jamaal Charles, Le'Veon Bell, DeMarco Murray and other receiving competent backs rise above the rest in fantasy points by the end of the 2014 season. But, what if the running back isn't the best receiver on the planet? What if he's just a tough, physical runner who values running over defenders for those extra yards rather than joysticking past defenders? Oh, and what if he doesn't have Adrian Peterson like breakaway speed? Is it still worth drafting the downhill running back?

    The answer to that is a resounding yes, however, certain criteria should be met. First, you need to know which round to take him in. Second, you need to know what scheme he plays in and if his running style is a good fit. Third, you need to look at the talent along the offensive line. Lastly, you need to evaluate his health and current physical state of his career.

    Where Morris thrives

    Redskins' running back Alfred Morris is a textbook example of a downhill runner. If you watched Morris as a rookie in 2012, you saw how effective he was at moving the pile and you almost cringed at the thought of some smaller defensive back having to tackle him. Here's a clip of Morris from 2012 where his drive to will his way past the first down marker is on full display.

    Notice how his feet keep moving which allows him to maintain his balance through contact and scamper for more yards. He diagnosed where the hole is going to be quickly enough so that he can burst through it before the Cincinnati defender penetrates the line of scrimmage. He keeps his pad level low, which allows him to stay moving forward and gain positive yardage. His competitive toughness is also apparent on this play, as he looks to initiate contact with the defenders rather than avoid it. It's worth noting that Morris thrived in the read option alongside Robert Griffin III and there's no doubt the threat of a rushing quarterback helped Morris out immensely.

    How he changed as a runner

    Watching Morris in 2014, you saw a running back that seemed a little more indecisive at times. He often waited patiently to set up his blocks, but never fully committed to the hole even when it was there at times. You factor that in with his subtle decrease in burst, agility and all-around speed and it's no surprise his numbers last year were a career worst.

    The Redskins instability at quarterback certainly didn't help Morris either. The team went through all three quarterbacks like kleenex last season and Morris had a different chemistry with each of them. With Robert Griffin III, he had more freedom as a runner because of the QB-run threat. With backup Kirk Cousins, he became more of a 3-4 yard per carry guy in addition to a play action guy which helped open up the passing game for the more pocket-oriented Cousins.

    The current version of Morris runs to the edge and patiently waits for his blocks to set up, a trait many consider to be a positive one among running backs. The only difference — he never fully commits and cuts hard up the field like he did in his rookie year.

    This isn't to say Morris was indecisive on every play in 2014. You still saw many glimpses of what he's capable of when he decides to commit to his blocks and burst through the hole. That was very evident in the game against Tampa, where Morris rushed for 96 yards on 20 carries. That performance against the Bucs was good for the second-most rushing yards Morris had in a game all season.

    Also against Tampa, Morris displayed the kind of competitive toughness that has made him one of the most consistent fantasy backs over the last 3 seasons. Click the vine video below.

    Where he still wins in the NFL and on your fantasy team

    One of Morris' best traits is his durability. Through three seasons, Morris has started every game. He has shown to be the rare example of a running back who can withstand the harsh punishment of hit after hit that often lead to so many injuries at the position. In fantasy football, a guy who shows up and punches the clock is a valuable commodity in terms of consistency.

    You could argue Morris has achieved that durability because of his more recent choices when running the ball. In 2014, there were times when Morris could've plowed over a defender but instead chose to use lateral jukes instead. Now, Morris' agility has never been his strongest suit, and his burst and explosiveness have decreased very slightly but also noticeably over the last three seasons. While you rarely see him make defenders miss like say, LeSean McCoy, his ability to juke rather than try and run defenders over has helped him avoid the violent hits that take their toll on a running back over the years has served as key preserver to the running backs productive career early on.

    A typical Alfred Morris run in 2012: Line up in read option, burst through the hole after making one lateral cut, run downhill three of four yards,  initiate contact with defender while still running forward behind pads and keeping legs churning, fall forward for another two or three yards.

    A typical Alfred Morris run in 2014: Line up behind the quarterback in a half-pistol formation (typically what he ran with Kirk Cousins at quarterback), burst through the hole just a tad bit slower, shuffle feet more to make cutback instead of planting foot in the ground and cutting decisively, wait for blockers to set up before running 2-3 yards before laterally sliding around defender and falling forward for an extra yard.

    While that analysis may indicate Morris has regressed a little bit, the bigger culprit isn't so much in his athleticism since he remains pretty well-off in that category. It's more so his lack of decisiveness in the hole that has hurt his production the most

    That, combined with the injury woes to the Redskins at the quarterback position in addition to a young offensive line that had to play a backup tight end at times during the season plus a new coach in Jay Gruden and loss of running back guru Mike Shanahan and you got a few more ingredients to complement the slight dropoff recipe as well.

    His benign role in the receiving game

    Perhaps the biggest threat against Morris as a potential solid fantasy running back is his struggles in the receiving game. Morris had one of the worst drop rates in the league last season, as he failed to reel in 6 of his 26 targets. This led to the Redskins not trust him much as a receiver, and it hurt Morris' fantasy value on third down. Per Football Outsiders, Morris was only on the field for 58 percent of the snaps in 2014, which ranked him 18th among starting RBs. It hurt him the most on long passing downs, as Washington preferred the services of Roy Helu Jr.

    Helu's tendency to stay on the field when the team was running their no huddle offense in hopes of trying to comeback from a deficit in the fourth quarter. It was a fate the Redskins found themselves in very often last season after winning just four games, and Morris' value suffered as he frequently came out during third downs and Roy Helu Jr. saw plenty of work in the passing game via the screen and on choice routes.

    Overall, Morris compiled just 37 catches for 310 receiving yards and zero receiving touchdowns in three seasons as a starting running back. It's not the kind of numbers you want to see in a current NFL landscape that almost requires a running back be a good receiver out of the backfield. You have the feeling at any moment, a more talented receiving back like newly-acquired Matt Jones might overtake Morris at some point in 2015.

    What 2015 has in store

    There is optimism for Morris' fantasy owners in 2015, however. The Redskins are retooling their offensive line and spent a first-round pick on top right tackle Brandon Scherff. Scherff will likely be inserted into the starting lineup immediately and with pro bowler Trent Williams anchoring the other side, this could be a formidable unit as the season goes along. Williams is also in the final year of his rookie contract and will be looking for a pay day. Former third-round pick Spencer Long could also play a big role this season, as he's expected to play at right guard. 

    New offensive line coach Bill Callahan wants to make the Redskins more of a power run team like he did with the Cowboys a season ago. This plays to Morris' strengths as a downhill runner. However, he'll have to become better at reading his blocks and more decisive in cutting up field if he wants to post another 1,000-yard season.

    Final verdict

    Morris is still an RB2, but he's an upper-tier RB2 with an offense that will try to rebuild its line and play more to Morris' strengths as a runner.

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  • Draft Grades: NFC South

    My second installment of the Fantasy Football Helpers Draft Grades features one of the more peculiar divisions in the NFL, the NFC South. Like many of you know the NFC South was the only division in football to not have a team finish the season above .500

    Atlanta Falcons

    Players Drafted

    1 (08). Vic Beasley LEO/Clemson

    2 (42). Jalen Collins CB/LSU

    3 (73). Tevin Coleman RB/Indiana University

    4 (107). Justin Hardy WR/East Carolina

    5 (137). Grady Jarrett DT/Clemson

    7 (225). Jake Rodgers OT/Eastern Washington

    7 (249). Akeem King FS/San Jose State

    While the Atlanta Falcons did not do as much to protect franchise quarterback Matt Ryan as I would have liked, I absolutely love what they were able to acquire on the defensive side of the football. With three defensive players selected in the team's first five picks it is clear that former Seahawks defensive coordinator, and new Falcons Head Coach, Dan Quinn has made it his objective to fix one of the league's worst overall units. 

    There was some hype early on in the week prior to the draft that the Falcons may actually invest a top-10 pick on Georgia running back Todd Gurley. While I believe Gurley is one of, if not the best players, available in the 2015 NFL Draft the Falcons have more pressing needs than running back. Turns out Dan Quinn was awarded a toy for his new defensive scheme when the team selected Clemson EDGE rusher Vic Beasley. While Beasley alone does not possess much value in standard leagues he will add some juice to a group of pass-rushers that managed only 22.0 sacks as a team, ranking 30th in the NFL. 

    In addition to adding the former Clemson Tiger, the Falcons invested their second round pick on LSU CB Jalen Collins, a personal favorite of mine in this cornerback class. There is no doubt that Collins was inconsistent in his time in Baton Rouge, Collins possesses the size (6'1", 203 lbs) and speed (4.4) that it takes to excel in Quinn's press-man defensive scheme. If Collins is able to overcome a foot injury that will cost him some of the offseason training program, there is the possibility Collins could be starting day 1 as the compliment to third-year cornerback Desmond Trufant. 

    While the Falcons did a lot too address their putrid excuse for a defense they could not help themselves from investing on some young, offensive talent. Third round selection Tevin Coleman is a player that I expect to have a major impact during his rookie season. With Steven Jackson officially out of town there is a gaping hole in the Falcons that is just waiting to be filled by either the aforementioned Coleman or Devonta Freeman, who the team invested a 4th round pick in last season. If Coleman is able to win the starting running back job during training camp/pre-season I believe he has the ability to reach every week RB2 value in Kyle Shannahan's zone-run scheme. 

    Grade: A

     

    Carolina Panthers

    Players Drafted

    1 (25). Shaq Thompson OLB/Washington

    2 (41). Devin Funchess WR/Michigan

    4 (102). Daryl Williams OT/Oklahoma

    5 (169). David Mayo ILB/Texas State

    5 (174). Cameron Artis-Payne RB/Auburn

    While the Panthers did not do lot from a quantity perspective, the Panthers added some very intriguing pieces that possess some sneaky fantasy potential next season. The Panthers made it clear they wanted to add some youth to their linebacking corps, adding Washington Husky S/OLB hybrid Shaq Thompson. While it is unclear how Thompson will be used, he possesses a unique skill-set with the ability to be a major asset in nickel and sub packages.

    Second round pick Devin Funchess is one of the most intruiging draft picks in the 2015 NFL Draft. Equipped with a massive frame the thought is that Devin Funchess is going to plug in immediately as the Panthers no. 2 receiver, however I expect the team to find more creative ways to use the athletic playmaker. The former Wolverine was used both inline as a tight end, flexed out in the slot, and out wide as a boundary receiver during his college career. While Funchess was held back by suspect quarterback play, he still displayed improved route-running, the ability to be a red-zone mismatch, as well as improved body control with the ability to make contested catches. 

    The best pick, and the one that I believe fantasy football owners need to take note of is the Panther's second 5th round pick Cameron Artis-Payne, the running back out of Auburn. While slightly undersize (5'10, 212 lbs), I believe Payne is in a position to see major playing time during his rookie season. However I believe Artis-Payne will be forced into action due to the inability for veteran running back Jonathan Stewart to stay healthy. During Stewart's 7-year career he has only been able to stay healthy for all 16 games four times, and has never carried the ball more than 225 times in any season. For fantasy owner's looking for a late round stash in re-draft formats this is a guy that I would take the gamble on, for the price, over guys like Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon

    While the Carolina Panther's did not make the biggest splashes during the draft, they were able to add some quality pieces that should contribute sooner-rather-than-later. Thompson should fit in immediately next to Thomas Davis as the team's WLB, and should prove to be a major asset in nickel and sub packages in the pass-happy NFC South, while 5th round tackling machine David Mayo should make an impact on special teams. 4th round pick Daryl Williams will likely battle with veteran Mark Remmers for the starting right tackle spot, and could potentially kick inside to guard if needed. 

    Grade: B-

     

    New Orleans Saints

    Players Drafted

    1 (13). Andrus Peat OT/Stanford

    1 (31). Stephone Anthony ILB/Clemson

    2 (44). Hau'oli Kikaha OLB/Washington

    3 (75). Garrett Grayson QB/Colorado State

    3 (78). P.J. Williams CB/Florida State

    5 (148). Davis Tull OLB/Chattanooga

    5 (154). Tyeler Davison DT/Fresno State

    7 (230). Marcus Murphy RB/Missouri

    This was a very interesting offseason for the Saints. In the middle of "cap hell" the Saints were forced to make some head-scratching moves, including the trade sending All-Pro Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks in exchange for a first-round pick in 2015 and center Max Unger. With Drew Brees getting another year older, and the team making it an emphasis to improve an offensive line unit that was decimated by injuries, the Saints could potentially make the switch to a run-based offense.

    In my opinion, the three biggest needs that the Saints needed to address this offseason was the offensive line, defensive back, and linebacker. The Saints started off the draft with the selection of Stanford offensive tackle Andrus Peat, a massive tackle that possesses road-grading run blocking ability that needs to improve as a pass blocker. Peat's outlook is likely protecting a team's blindside, but I believe Peat could supplant veteran Zach Strief as the team's starting tight tackle during his rookie season. 

    The Saints used their second first-round pick on Stephone Anthony, an athletic middle linebacker out of Clemson University. While Anthony was overlooked by prospects like Paul Dawson and Eric Kendricks, Anthony was considered by some to have the highest ceiling out of the 2015 linebacker class due to his elite athleticism, and ability to stay on the field in nickel and sub packages. 

    Perhaps the most perplexing pick the Saints made was 3rd round selection of Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson. While I like Grayson's skill-set he will likely not see the field unless Brees' suffers an injury, or retires for some reason. 

    Overall I thought that the Saints had a very good draft. While the selection of Washington Hau'oli Kikaha was perplexing due to his lack of measurables and potential injury red flags, the Saints clearly wanted to add some youth to one of the oldest defensive units in the NFL. 

    Grade: B-

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

    Players Drafted

    1 (1) Jameis Winston QB/Florida State

    2 (34) Donovan Smith OT/Penn State

    2 (61). Ali Marpet OG/Hobart

    4 (124) Kwon Alexander OLB/LSU

    5 (162) Kenny Bell WR/Nebraska

    6 (184) Kaelin Clay WR/Utah

    7 (231) Joey Iosefa FB/Hawaii

    With the number one overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Jameis Winston, the former Heisman Trophy winning quarterback from Florida State University. While Winston possesses some of the most pro-ready talent of a quarterback prospect in recent memory, Winston also come with some interesting off-the-field maturity issues leading people to question whethe or not Winston can be trusted as the face of an NFL franchise. 

    Aside from adding my no. 1 quarterback prospect, the Buccaneers did a great job adding some talent to one of the worst offensive line units in the NFL. The re-build started when the Buccaneers invested the 34th overall pick on Penn State tackle Donovan Smith. While Smith battled some inconsistencies with pass protection in college, he possesses the frame and athletic ability to be a starting left tackle at the NFL level. The Bucs did not stop their when adding offensive line depth, as they added one of the most popular players for #DraftTwitter in DIII Hobart's Ali Marpet. Although Marpet played his college football against weaker competition then most prospects, Marpet was able to prove himself as one of the top interior lineman prospects during the Reese's Senior Bowl. With the addition's of Marpet and Smith, the Buccaneers offensive line took a positive step in the right direction if they want Winston to develop into the quarterback they envision. 

    The most underrated draft pick by the Buccaneers, in my opinion, came from the team's 5th round selection Kenny Bell. During Bell's time at Nebraska he was regularly held back by the quarterback play of Taylor "T-Magic" Martinez and Tommy Armstrong, but was still able to flash legitimate deep play ability and an underrated ability to run a full NFL route tree. With the twin towers of Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson drawing the attention of defenses down the field, Bell is in a great position to see single coverage on a weekly basis. If Bell is able to win the job as the team's slot receiver I would not be surprised to see Bell reach low WR3-WR4 value in new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's pass based offense.

    Grade: B

     

    Catch up on all of our NFL Draft Grades by clicking on the links below:

    NFC North

     

    Photo Courtesy of MGoBlog Flickr Page

  • Draft Grades: NFC North

    The 2015 NFL Draft has come and gone, and while fans eagerly wait the start of rookie mini-camps I feel it is the appropriate time to grade how teams fared in the draft.  The first edition of the Fantasy Football Helpers draft grades will feature the NFC North, with the rest of the NFC/AFC to come shortly there after.

     

    Chicago Bears

    Players Drafted

    1.     (7) Kevin White WR/West Virginia

    2.     (39) Eddie Goldman DT/FSU

    3.     (71) Hroniss Grassu OG/Oregon

    4.     (106) Jeremy Langford RB/Michigan State

    5.     (142) Adrian Amos S/Penn State

    6.     (183) Tayo Fabuluje OT/TCU

     

    New Bears General Manager Ryan Pace was stuck with the task of bringing some ferocity back to the Monsters of the Midway. With the 7th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, and a new coaching staff that is switching from Lovie Smith’s 4-3 Tampa Two defensive scheme, to Vic Fangio’s aggressive 3-4 defense. After trading Brandon Marshall to the Jets in exchange for a 5th round pick the Bears were left with a massive hole at wide receiver opposite Alshon Jeffery. The addition of Kevin White with the 7th overall pick should provide the team with an instant impact player. Although White may not be as refined as Amari Cooper, who ended up getting drafted by the Raiders, White’s blend of size/power/speed make the Bears wide receivers one of the top young units in football.

    As far as the defensive side of the football Pace did a great job of adding some meat to the defensive line. Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman should fit in immediately at the 0, or nose tackle position in the Bears 3-4 front. Although Goldman does not possess elite pass rush skills, he is a massive human being that should allow the Bears linebackers to run free to the ball.

    The most underrated drat pick for the Bears in my opinion came in the 4th round with the selection of Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford. Despite not showing elite athletic ability on tape, Langford lit up the NFL Scouting Combine after posting the lowest 40-yard dash time out of running backs (4.42). Despite having great long-speed, Langford is a versatile back with the ability to make plays in both the passing and running game. With veteran running back Matt Forte entering the last year of his contract and rumors swirling that Forte could hold-out,  Langford could be in a position to take over the bulk of the carries in Chicago as soon as next season.

    Overall, the Bears did not make a lot of splash move outside of the selection of Kevin White, but they were able to add some much needed depth along both the offensive and defensive line. While the Bears rebuild was never considered a one-year process, new GM Ryan Pace did a good job adding some quality young talent that has the potential to become starters.

    Grade: B-

     

    Green Bay Packers

    Players Drafted

    1.     (30) Damarious Randall S/Arizona State

    2.     (62) Quentin Rollins CB/Miami (OH)

    3.     (94) TY Montgomery OW/Stanford

    4.     (129) Jake Ryan LB/Michigan

    5.     (147) Brett Hundley QB/UCLA

    6.     (206) Aaron Ripkowski FB/Oklahoma

    6.   (210) Christian Ringo DE/Louisiana-Lafeyette

    6.   (213) Kennard Backman TE/UAB

     

    As long as Aaron Rodgers is around the Packers should be one of the elite offenses in the NFL, but if they want the Lombardi Trophy to come home again it is essential to improve on the defensive side of the ball.

    With the departure of Tramon Williams and Davon House to free agency the Packers were left with a gaping hole in their secondary. With the team’s first round selection the Packers drafted Arizona State safety Damarious Randall, an athletic safety who has the ability play deep as a single-high safety as well as the ability to roll down into coverage against slot WR’s and TE’s. Packers GM Ted Thompson did not stop there when adding young talent to his secondary as he invetsed the team’s 2nd round selection into the intriguing Quentin Rollins, a former 4-year starter on the Miami (OH) basketball team who has played just one year of college football. Despite the lack of experience playing football at a high level Rollins showed great ball skills and impressive instincts.

    After the first two picks for the Packers I really started to question the moves the team made. The team drafted Stanford offensive weapon Ty Montgomery with their third round selection. Although Montgomery possesses some unique skills with incredible athleticism, he is extremely raw as a receiver and will most likely be relegated to KOR or PR duties during his rookie season.

    Despite the selections of Ty Montgomery and Brett Hundley I feel the Packers had a solid, but not great, draft. Randall and Rollins should be day 1 starters for the Packers, and 4th round selection Jake Ryan could see some playing time during his rookie season now that A.J. Hawk has signed with the Bengals. Although the draft was not as flashy as teams like the Titans, Vikings, or Jaguars, the Packers did add two starting caliber players and should continue to be one of the premier teams in the NFC this season.

    Grade: C+

     

     

    Detroit Lions

    Players Drafted

    1.     (28) Laken Tomlinson OG/Duke

    2.     (54) Ameer Abdullah RB/Nebraska

    3.     (80) Alex Carter CB/Stanford

    4.     (113) Gabe Wright DT/Auburn

    5.     (168) Michael Burton FB/Rutgers

    6.     (200) Quandre Diggs CB/Texas

    7.     (240) Corey Robinson OT/South Carolina

     

    As much as I miss the days of Matt Millen being the GM of the Lions and investing in wide receivers year in and year out, the Lions have shed the laughing stock label and become one of the better drafting units under Martin Mayhew.

    Under new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi the Lions passing offense took a step back, finishing outside of the top-3 for the first time in three seasons. Part of the issue with the Lions offensive inconsistencies lay within the deficiencies along the offensive line. With the addition of first-round pick Laken Tomlinson the Lions have an immediate upgrade in terms of pass-protection. During Tomlinson’s last season at Duke he established himself as one of the top pass-protecting lineman in the nation, allowing 0 sacks and 0 QB hits during his senior season. If Matthew Stafford is going to make the jump from being an above average quarterback into the upper echelon the addition of Tomlinson to one of the better offensive lines in the NFC North should help immensely.

    For all of the dynasty owners that thought the departure of Reggie Bush to the 49ers would mean an increased role for Theo Riddick, those thoughts were quickly put to bed after Lions invested their 2nd round pick on Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah. Despite not having the frame of a typical 3-down running back, Abdullah runs with underrated power between the tackles and is matchup nightmare when used as a receiving option out of the backfield. With Joique Bell struggling to hold onto the ball consistently (11 fumbles lost since 2012) and just one more year left on his current contract, Abdullah could push Bell for the starting job as soon as next season.

    While the Lions draft does not possess a lot of fantasy relevant draft picks, they once again filled plenty of needs. The additions of Alex Carter and Quandre Diggs to the secondary should provide some quality depth behind Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis, as the Lions continue to have one of the best defensive units in all of football.

    Grade: B-

     

    Minnesota Vikings

    Players Drafted

    1.     (11) Trae Waynes CB/Michigan State

    2.     (45) Eric Kendricks ILB/UCLA

    3.     (88) Danielle Hunter DE/LSU

    4.     (110) T.J. Clemmings OT/Pittsburgh

    5.     (143) Mycole Pruitt TE/Southern Illinois

    5.   (146) Stefon Diggs WR/Maryland

    6.     (185) Tyrus Thompson OT/Oklahoma

    6.   (193) B.J. Dubose DE/Louisville

    7.   (228) Austin Shepard OT/Alabama

    7.  (232) Edmond Robinson OLB/Newberry

     

    Teams of the NFC North beware; Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer is building a juggernaut on the defensive side of the football. After investing in Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr, Xavier Rhodes, and Shariff Floyd in the first round over the last 4 years, the defense is loaded with young talent just waiting to take off.

    Although I thought the Vikings would go with wide receiver DeVante Parker or defensive end Bud Dupree in the first round, the team made the wise move and added the physical press-corner Trae Waynes out of Michigan State. Waynes, if all goes well, should fill in immediately as the team’s no. 2 CB this season opposite Xavier Rhodes.

    The addition of Waynes was just the start for the Vikings, as they added ILB Eric Kendricks and LSU DE Danielle Hunter with the teams 3rd and 4th round selection. Kendricks, an “undersized” linebacker from UCLA should be an immediate starter for the purple at either WLB or MLB.  Despite being a tad bit undersized for an NFL ILB, Kendricks has a nose for the football and is underrated in coverage. Guys like Chris Borland have gotten me to realize that linebackers who are tackling machines in college, translates very well to the NFL game. Hunter is an intriguing defensive end prospect with elite size (6’5”, 252 lbs.), speed (4.57), and incredibly long arms (34 ¼). Despite being raw as a pass rusher Hunter has all the physical tools to be a dominant RDE at the NFL level. If Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and Defensive Line Coach Andre Patterson Sr. can get Hunter’s physical tools to show up on the field, the Vikings could have one of the steals of the 2015 NFL Draft.

    If second year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is going to take the next step into being one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, the Vikings have to find a way to protect him better. With the additions of Pittsburgh tackle T.J. Clemmings, Oklahoma’s Tyrus Thompson, and Alabama’s Austin Shepard, the Vikings added some much needed depth to the offensive line.

    Of all the teams in the NFC North the Vikings had the most impactful draft of any team. With two players that will step in and be day one starters (Waynes, Kendricks), and four players that have the ability to develop into starting caliber players (Clemmings, Hunter, Diggs, Pruitt) the Vikings not only had the top draft in the NFC North, but one of the top in all of football.

    Grade: B+

     

     

     

    Photo Courtesy of Neon Tommy Flickr Page

Podcasts

Episode 76: Before they were cool

Thursday, 16 July 2015 00:00
We're hosting a free fantasy baseball world championship contest this week where you can enter to win $25,000 in Draft Kings qualifier vouchers. You can join by clicking this link. (7.17.15). Want to help yourself in fantas
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Epiosde 75: A quick intro

Monday, 13 July 2015 00:00
Want to try and win $1 million? Enter this weeks (7.16.15) Golf Millionaire contest by clicking this link. Want to help yourself in fantasy this season and support our site at the same time? Sign up for FantasyPros Draft Wiz
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Episode 74: Handcuffs and injury buff (ers)

Wednesday, 01 July 2015 00:00
Want to help support our website while also helping yourself in fantasy this season? Sign up for FantasyPros Draft Wizard by clicking this link. Try out many other FantasyPros tools including their Draft Analyzer, Cheat She
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Episode 73: The Adrian Peterson conundrum

Saturday, 13 June 2015 00:00
On a special Saturday episode of the podcast, Rotowire's Dominick Capetillo stops by to talk about drafting players for logical reasons vs. emotional ones and why it's important not to factor off-the-field issues too much wh
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Episode 72: I dream of Vereen

Friday, 05 June 2015 00:00
View original photo here.
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Episode 71: Less running backs, more problems

Monday, 01 June 2015 00:00
Sign up for 'Draft Wizard' from FantasyPros and gain an edge by doing 100s of Mock Drafts in the quickest way possible. On Monday's edition of Treatment, the Helpers discuss the zero running back theory and why it's a big r
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Waiver Wire

Fantasy sleeper: Cody Latimer

Wednesday, 22 July 2015 00:00
Want to help yourself in fantasy this season and support our site at the same time? Sign up for FantasyPros Draft Wizard by clicking this link. Try out many other FantasyPros tools including their Draft Analyzer, Cheat Shee
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Dynasty Quarterback Rankings Tier 1.0 Jameis Winston QB/Florida State

Friday, 24 April 2015 00:00
Love baseball? Love making $5,000 in a free contest? Sign up here. There is no other quarterback, or player for that matter, in the 2015 NFL Draft that has been inspected under the proverbial microscope by scouts and media
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Prospect: RB Michael Dyer

Wednesday, 22 April 2015 00:00
Sometimes the most interesting prospects are those who get lost in the shuffle due to issues off the field. Isaiah Crowell was a good example of that last season with Cleveland. Plus, if you look at the trends of good running
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Prospect: RB David Cobb

Friday, 10 April 2015 00:00
Gopher it Gopher it. That's what you should be saying to yourself when you peer into your dynasty draftboard during the later rounds and realize Minnesota product David Cobb is still available. His journey up until this poi
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Dynasty Wide Receiver Tier 2.0: Nelson Agholor

Thursday, 26 March 2015 00:00
Player: Nelson Agholor School: University of Southern California Position: Wide Receiver Height: 6'0" Weight: 198 lbs Class: Sr. Position Rank: 6 While I try and watch as much college football as possible, being fro
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Dynasty draft running backs tier 2: Jay Ajayi

Sunday, 08 March 2015 00:00
Tired of getting beat by the pros in Daily Fantasy leagues? Try this beginners contest with over $1 million in prizes. Running backs who can catch the ball are crucial for fantasy success. We mentioned Alabama running back T
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Weekly Rankings - Top 10

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1 Le'Veon Bell Pittsburgh Kansas City
2 Eddie Lacy Green Bay @Tampa Bay
3 Arian Foster Houston Baltimore
4 C.J. Anderson Denver @Cincinnati
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6 Jamaal Charles Kansas City @Pittsburgh
7 DeMarco Murray Dallas Indianapolis
8 Mark Ingram New Orleans Atlanta
9 Joique Bell Detroit @Chicago
10 Jeremy Hill Cincinnati Denver


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1 Jordy Nelson Green Bay @Tampa Bay
2 Calvin Johnson Detroit @Chicago
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4 Jeremy Maclin Randall Cobb @Washington
5 Randall Cobb Green Bay @Tampa Bay
6 Demaryius Thomas Denver @Cincinnati
7 A.J. Green Cincinnati Denver
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9 T.Y. Hilton Indianapolis @Dallas
10 Dez Bryant Dallas Indianapolis


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1 Rob Gronkowski New England @New York Jets
2 Julius Thomas Denver @Cincinnati
3 Jimmy Graham New Orleans Atlanta
4 Greg Olsen Carolina Cleveland
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6 Dwayne Allen Indianapolis @Dallas
7 Delanie Walker Tennessee @Jacksonville
8 Antonio Gates San Diego @San Francisco
9 Coby Fleener Indianapolis @Dallas
10 Jason Witten Dallas Indianapolis


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1 Stephen Gostkowski New England @New York Jets
2 Cody Parkey Philadelphia @Washington
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4 Dan Carpenter Buffalo @Oakland
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6 Steven Hauschka Seattle @Arizona
7 Matt Bryant Atlanta @New Orleans
8 Justin Tucker Baltimore @Houston
9 Dan Bailey Dallas Indianapolis
10 Connor Barth Denver @Cincinnati


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8   Philadelphia @Washington
9   Carolina Cleveland
10   Tennessee @Jacksonville


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