1) Deshaun Watson will be the No. 1 rookie QB in 2017
What Watson showed time and time again in college was his ability to win. No matter what the situation was, Watson was never stymied. With the surrounding talent in Houston of DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Lamar Miller and even the emergence of C.J. Fiedorowicz at tight end, Watson will have only Tom Savage to overcome to earn the keys to the fantasy kingdom. No other rookie QB will have either the same opportunity to start or the same level of surrounding talent and with a top 10 offensive line protecting him, Watson will have all day to throw to his playmakers and is guaranteed to rack up points with his legs too.
2) I want all of the Bucs
No one has had a happier offseason so far than Jameis Winston. His Tampa Bay Buccaneers have added even more offensive talent to an already stacked group and so Winston is poised to take the league by storm entering his third season. 2016’s WR2, Mike Evans, was joined by blue-chip deep threat Desean Jackson in free agency and first-round TE OJ Howard, one of the best tight end prospects to be drafted in the last five years. The hopeful return of Doug Martin should also bring a balance to the offense and allow Winston to take advantage of thinner secondaries. All of the above mentioned players have the potential to rank in the top 10 of their positions come the end of the season and Winston in particular seems poised for a top 5 campaign.
3) The Chargers WR corps is stacked and I don’t like it
Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Dontrelle Inman, Travis Benjamin and now rookie Mike Williams?! The Los Angeles Chargers have the deepest WR group in the NFL and it’s not even close. All five of the afore mentioned players could all conceivably rank in the top 36 wide receivers by the time the season has ended and while that seems like a good thing for fantasy, is it really?
Keenan Allen is the clear-cut best WR from this group but after him it’s just a crapshoot. The argument could be made to take any of the other four guys after him and that will cause complications during draft season. With so many mouths to feed it will be tough to predict who which guys will earn the most snaps and so there is a likelihood of some of the Chargers WRs being over-drafted.
4) Mike Williams will be under-drafted
Speaking of Chargers WRs draft positions, Williams’ draft compatriot and new Titans WR Corey Davis has been dominating the recent rookie hype and Williams appears to have fallen by the wayside. With a playing style reminiscent of Dez Bryant and Keyshawn Johnson, Williams’ redzone production potential could have big impacts in fantasy this season. With TEs Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry drawing the defensive attention in the redzone, Williams’ jump-ball mastery could quickly make him one of Philip Rivers’ favorite targets. Corey Davis is a more dynamic and versatile receiver, but don’t sleep on Mike Williams, especially when his ADP is established.
5) It’s time to say goodbye to Tajae Sharpe
It was fun while it lasted Tajae. The fantasy love affair the Titans had with Sharpe seems to have come to halt for the former 5th round pick. While he will still be a bit-part player in Tennessee this season, the addition of WR Corey Davis with the 5th overall pick in the draft clearly shows what the Titans think of Sharpe. Rishard Matthews was one of the best stories (and bargains) in fantasy last season and so the combination of Davis and Matthews is likely to steal most of Marcus Mariota’s passes away from Sharpe. Delanie Walker had a breakout season at TE in 2016 also and his role is likely to be expanded again in 2017. Even DeMarco Murray got in on the pass-catching party last year and will turn some of Sharpe’s targets his way. All in all, the Titans offense looks ready to roll in fantasy in 2017. Sadly for Tajae Sharpe, it appears he won’t be a major cog in the process.
6) Jeremy Hill…you’ve been put on notice, sir
No matter what your stance is on Joe Mixon, he is undeniably talented and if things had turned out differently he may have even been a top 10 pick. For the Cincinnati Bengals this is great value. For Jeremy Hill this is bad news. Hill has battled injuries and simply poor play over the last few seasons and now appears to be a shade of the running-back he flashed glimpses of early in his career. Giovanni Bernard restricts Hill’s use in the passing game and Mixon is better than Hill in every facet of the game. While he still has the potential to overcome this, Hill’s role will likely be reduced down to a glorified goal-line back in Cincinnati this season and he may be in the market for a new home in 2018.
7) The 2017 Bengals are a souped-up version of the Houston Texans
As mentioned above, the addition of Joe Mixon and also John Ross, the speedster WR, to the Bengals this offseason adds even more talent to a team with offensive skill position pro-bowlers coming out of their ears. Their offensive roster is somewhat reminiscent of the Houston Texans roster in 2016. AJ Green is a top 3 wide receiver and will draw coverage away from John Ross who will be able to take advantage of open fields with his speed. This complementary receiving duo calls to mind that of DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, a relationship that operates in a very similar dynamic. A versatile, pass-catching running-back in Joe Mixon serves as a more explosive Lamar Miller and when healthy Tyler Eifert is a top 3 TE in the NFL, greatly outperforming CJ Fiedorowicz. With all that talent the 2017 Bengals could be a fantasy goldmine. Yet as we witnessed with the 2016 Houston Texans, the absence of a passable QB can render this talent useless. Your move, Andy Dalton.
8) Christian McCaffrey should be a top 10 PPR draft pick
Fitting that the 8th thought focus on the 8th overall pick and new Carolina Panthers RB, Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey’s outstanding receiving capabilities for a running-back are of such standing that it is quite possible he will play more snaps at receiver than at running-back during his rookie season. His natural ability for catching the football and unparalleled after-the-catch ability will make him a superstar in PPR formats. With the all-round game and athleticism of David Johnson, McCaffrey’s talent far outweighs the risk of taking him high in the draft and positioned on a Panthers offense ready to rebound in 2017, it is likely McCaffrey will be a front-runner for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
9) The time has come to accept TE as the new committee position
Fantasy owners have always been scorned by the dreaded running-back by committee approach. Fun, exciting prospects can have their fantasy potential swiped away due to a division of the volume, rendering both players effectively useless for fantasy purposes. Sadly, it appears that this virus has spread from running-backs to tight ends. Committee approaches make sense for teams with no depth at the position but it seems even teams with good quality TEs are still employing this tactic. Washington is homed to star tight end Jordan Reed yet due to injuries journeyman Vernon Davis now receives significant snaps. The Chargers have recently supplemented Antonio Gates with Hunter Henry and while Rob Gronkowski may be the best tight end of all time, injuries have forced the Patriots into providing back-up for him in the form of Dwayne Allen. The realisation of the spread of TE committees around the league makes Greg Olsen’s career and fantasy production even more impressive.
10) Carson Wentz will be the biggest bargain of 2017
Carson Wentz was not set up to succeed in his first year in Philadelphia, being surrounded by arguably the worst WR corps in the NFL. However, the offseason additions of Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith will allow Wentz to take chances and show-case his arm talent due to the big-play nature of their games. A solidified offensive line and a deep running-back committee (*sighs*) will keep the pressure off Wentz and allow him to scan the field and rack up huge numbers. The second year jump of Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota last year raised both of those players to fantasy stardom and there is no reason to assume the same won’t happen to Wentz. With a current ADP of the 11th/12th round and the potential for a top 10 fantasy QB season, Wentz could potentially be the Matt Ryan of 2017.
Thank you for reading, follow Will Pendleton on twitter @willpendosports
Now that Free Agency Frenzy has settled down these past several weeks, all fantasy football owners are eyeing the NFL Draft which will be held April 27-29 as the last true roster shakeup before OTA’s begin shortly thereafter. Of course, the total unknown for us fantasy owners is where will the well-known and most celebrated skill position players land when those 3 days are over. And this is where yours truly, the resident arm-chair GM comes in, to guide you through these series of articles that will try to surmise where the best fantasy football fit will be for those players for the upcoming season.
Leonard Fournette | RB
New York Jets- Drafting in the 6th spot, they can go a myriad of directions, but there’s a chance Fournette could be on their radar as part of their rebuilding plan. Matt Forte, who is 30 years old, and Bilal Powell are both essentially finesse running backs and the Jets need a power back to control the clock and be the foundation of their offense since the quarterback position is in flux going into the 2017 season.
Carolina Panthers- With the recent news of Cam Newton’s surgery to repair a partially torn right rotator cuff, it would seem to make logical sense for GM Dave Gettleman to strengthen the running game and draft Fournette with the 8th pick. Although Jonathan Stewart did receive a 1-year contract extension, he is 30 years old, has a well-known injury history, and the primary backups are Fozzy Whittaker and Cameron Artis-Payne. Fournette would bolster the ground game by being the short-yardage and goal line back instead of Newton.
Jacksonville Jaguars- On the surface it wouldn’t seem that the Jags would have any interest in Fournette since they did add Chris Ivory as a free agent last season, but new Director of Football Operations, Tom Coughlin, wants this offense to be more physical, bruising, and smash-mouth and they could believe that Fournette fits the profile more than Ivory. TJ Yeldon will remain the 3rd down, change-of-pace back for Jacksonville. Now, where does this leave Ivory in this possible scenario? A trade or outright release are two options the Jaguars may be open to.
Dalvin Cook | RB
Green Bay Packers- The Packers has startlingly little depth at the RB position and perhaps this is the year GM Ted Thompson decides to draft a multi-faceted running back with the 29th pick which will compliment Aaron Rodgers’ potent offense. Ty Montgomery, who spent the last half of the season in the backfield, will go into 2017 as a full-time running back but no one expects him to handle a full load and the recently re-signed Christine Michael, who always teases his ability, but rarely does it show up in a consistent manner. They are the only running backs under contract for Green Bay, therefore, adding Cook’s ability to play all 3-downs would be an invaluable asset to their offense in the long run. But first, he needs to master pass blocking or he’ll never get on the field.
Washington Redskins- At the 17th drafting slot, it may see a little bit of a reach for them to take Cook, but he has a chance to get opportunities immediately since the team hasn’t been given incumbent Robert Kelley the stamp of approval and named him the starting running back. Matt Jones, the other running back who did start the season, may be released or traded to make room for a rookie running back (like Cook perhaps). There will be a new look at the wide receiver position since both Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson left via free agency but replaced them with Terrelle Pryor and Brian Quick but they may need a consistent running game early in the season before the new targets get acclimated to Kirk Cousins and the Washington offense and that’s where Dalvin Cook can be very useful in controlling the clock or being an outlet in the passing game. Washington could use some playmaking/explosiveness in the backfield and Cook fits the bill nicely.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers- With the 4-game suspension of Doug Martin to begin the season, Tampa might be in the market for another younger, cheaper running back and Cook may be the answer. Yes, yes, I know that they re-signed Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims is still on the roster, but Dalvin Cook has the versatility to be on the field for all 3 downs and perhaps he can be Tampa’s consistent running game to go along with Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, Cameron Brate, and newly acquired DeSean Jackson and be a more diverse and explosive offense.
Christian McCaffrey | RB
Philadelphia Eagles- Let’s make no mistake about it: The Eagles running game needs an infusion of talent, toughness, and quickness to help the development of their second-year quarterback, Carson Wentz. Since the Eagles did upgrade the wide receiver corps with the signings of Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith, it would make logical sense for them to add a running back and they might use the 14th pick in the draft for the sole purpose to target McCaffrey because of his talent, versatility, and underrated toughness. He can be used as a receiver, punt/kickoff returner, or as a running back. The running back depth chart will not be as crowded as you would believe; Ryan Mathews might be released, Darren Sproles is 34 years old and is more dangerous as a punt returner and receiver out of the backfield, and Wendell Smallwood is the second year back trying to prove himself in the league. So if McCaffrey can make a mark for the Eagles during OTA’s, training camp, and the pre-season, he’s a weapon that could make the Eagles a more potent team in the NFC East.
Indianapolis Colts- Frank Gore is 34 years old and can’t continue being the starting running back forever; so the Colts new GM Chris Ballard should be looking for his heir apparent and if he should choose, selecting Andrew Luck’s fellow Stanford alum in McCaffrey would be a prudent choice. He would be an asset in the passing game since the Colts do like to use their running backs as outlets for Luck; his return game skills may take some unnecessary pounding off of TY Hilton, and he could make the Colts running game a viable option if the passing game were to struggle during the season.
Green Bay Packers- If the Packers decide to pass on Cook, drafting McCaffrey instead may even be a better fit with this rather potent passing offense. The virtual “swiss army knife” can be positioned anywhere on the field (backfield, slot, outside the numbers) and create mismatches for head coach Mike McCarthy to take advantage of and be a valuable weapon for Aaron Rodgers. His dynamic return skills can not only give the Packers offense great field position, it can allow Randall Cobb to focus 100 percent on becoming the best wide receiver he can be. As for the running game, it could be a dynamic 1-2 punch with Ty Montgomery in the beginning, but that may cap both of their fantasy ceilings, but he has the potential to be fantasy relevant.
Corey Davis | WR
Tennessee Titans- At first glance, it may seem odd that I have the Titans here as a possible landing spot for Davis, but let me explain my reasoning. Although their offensive profile is “exotic-smashmouth”, using one of the two first-round picks (likely the 18th pick), Tennessee drafting Davis would be a plus expected value move because he’s an additional weapon at the wide receiver position to go along with Rishard Matthews and he helps the franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota. The sooner Davis becomes the starter and becomes a tangible threat, the sooner defenses account for him and then the running game featuring DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry can REALLY go to town on opposing teams.
Arizona Cardinals- Eventually the Cardinals will need a replacement for the future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald who will turn 34 August 31st. Drafting 13th, Arizona may want to look at Davis as Fitzgerald’s possible heir apparent and another weapon to go along with John Brown, David Johnson, J.J. Nelson, and Jermaine Gresham for Carson Palmer to play with. It may be hard for Davis to crack the starting lineup when the season opens, but his performance during OTA’s and training camp may determine his snap count and target shares early in the season.
The possibility exists that he will come on in the second half of the year once he has a better grasp of the Cardinals’ offensive scheme. Keep him on your fantasy radar if for some reason an injury occurs in the wide receiver corps; he will get a definite snap count and target share increase.
Mike Williams | WR
Buffalo Bills- There’s a gaping hole at the wide receiver position and the Bills desperately need to fill it since they decided to re-sign Tyrod Taylor and make him their quarterback for the foreseeable future. Both Marquise Goodwin and Robert Woods, who spent their entire careers with the Bills, left via free agency. Their departure leaves a substantial number of targets to be filled and the depth chart behind incumbent Sammy Watkins leaves little to be desired so it’s extremely plausible that Williams could be the starter beside with Sammy for Week 1 of the regular season. Therefore his fantasy value would be as a solid WR2 since both of them will soak up all of the snaps and targets at the receiver position.
Baltimore Ravens- This is another team with a target vacuum at the wide receiver position with the retirement of Steve Smith, Sr. and the departure of Kamar Aiken. The presumed starters are the veteran speedster Mike Wallace and their 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman so there’s some chance for a drafted receiver (like Mike Williams) to get some snaps, targets, and receptions if they grasp the offense rather quickly. Under offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, the Ravens have become a much more passing team and Mike Williams should fit right in and become a fantasy relevant wide receiver in the range of a WR3 with WR2 upside.
Now let me leave you with one small bit of advice: When watching the coverage of the NFL Draft during the 3-day period, don’t overlook the Day 2 or Day 3 draft picks; they may wind up being fantasy football hidden gems that may help you to the elusive championship in the fall. Better yet, I’ll do the service of listing some of those players in Part 2 of my Rookie Symposium series.
Your fantasy football arm-chair GM,
FORTUNE FAVORS THE BOLD
Comparison: Cam Newton
Best Fit: Houston Texans
The Texans are an incredibly talented team, on both sides of the ball, and have one of the best coaching staffs in the league. Bill O’Brien, a proven quarterback guru, (who has won games with Brock Osweiler, Tom Savage, Brandon Weedon, T.J. Yates, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett) would be the best coach to fix Mahomes’ mechanical issues and place him in a position to succeed.
Mahomes is at his best when he plays freely and O’Brien would instil confidence in him, allowing him to do what he does best. Behind a solid offensive line, and in theory a solid running game, Mahomes and his huge arm could utilise one of the most explosive and dynamic receiving corps in the league with DeAndre Hopkins, second year burner Will Fuller and an all-world athlete in Braxton Miller. This Texans offense could in theory be reminiscent of an air-raid Texas Tech offense, built on big passing plays and high-flying, high-scoring offense. With all of the blue-chip pieces the Texans have in place on offense, fantasy owners everywhere would be desperate to see a situation like this happen and bring fantasy relevance back to Houston.
Mahomes presents himself as one of the more intriguing players in the entire 2017 draft. From a glance at a far he certainly appears to be a special player. With one of the biggest arms in recent memory, Mahomes has put up huge numbers (as is the trend for Texas Tech quarterbacks) in the Kliff Kingsbury offense over the past two years while in the starting role and has a highlight reel to rival any and all. However, on closer inspection many mechanical flaws can be identified with Mahomes’ throwing motion and footwork in particular and herein lies the division of opinions on his draft stock.
Mahomes fans will state that his production speaks for itself and this cannot be argued with. 5,052 yards, 53 total touchdowns and only 10 interceptions in only 12 games is outstanding production undoubtedly. However, much like another Big 12 team in Baylor, Texas Tech’s offensive system is geared towards producing video-game statistics and not towards preparing players for pro-style offenses. Ex-Baylor and New York Jets quarterback Bryce Petty also had gaudy numbers at the collegiate level yet that has failed to translate in the NFL. Detractors of Mahomes will also cite a total of 27 sacks taken in 2016 also. Mahomes may be 6’3’’ and 230 lbs, yet no rookie quarterback can sustain that kind of beating in the NFL.
The biggest flaw of Mahomes however is his mechanics. His rare arm talent allowed him to overcome this at the college level yet NFL defenses are faster, stronger and more complicated. Poor mechanics breed bad throws and bad throws often result in interceptions. Mahomes rarely sets his feet or steps into throws and so loses both extra power and accuracy. His unstable base throws off his upper body mechanics too meaning that his shoulders are never flat at release, a trait that results in looping, easily intercepted passes.
Mahomes cleaned up his footwork at the NFL Combine last week yet anyone can appear fleet-footed when there is no real opposition. Mechanical fixes are a lengthy process and are only proven when quarterbacks are put under pressure. Mahomes and his future NFL team could follow the Cam Newton and Carolina Panthers model in order to develop him as a player. Newton struggled with similar mechanical flaws to Mahomes coming out of college, relying on his arm over his mechanics and while he had minor success in his first few seasons it was not until Newton spent a full offseason fixing his mechanics that we saw his full MVP level potential.
As the raw prospect he is now, Mahomes would be much better suited to becoming a back-up and sitting behind a veteran while he develops. This model allowed Aaron Rodgers to sit and observe Brett Favre in Green Bay while fixing his own mechanical issues. However, it is very believable that if Mahomes was forced into the starting line-up due to an injury that he could have surprising success. His knack for making ‘wow’, big threat plays could very easily steer a team to a small string of victories however if placed in the spotlight for too long it is easy to see defenses figuring out ways to stop Mahomes. If this was to happen it may be worth taking a shot on Mahomes in your line-up for a few weeks. There is no reward without risk.
Follow Will on twitter @willpendosports
Player: Deshaun Watson - QB, Clemson
Comparison: Ryan Tannehill
Best Fit: Buffalo Bills
If the Bills don’t sort out their contract situation with Tyrod Taylor, they would be wise to draft a quarterback early and preferably Watson. Watson’s arm strength paired with his deep ball touch and his rushing ability are reminiscent of Tyrod Taylor’s and would suit this Bills offense perfectly. With a solid offensive line, a stud No.1 wide receiver in Sammy Watkins and one of the best running backs in the league in Lesean McCoy, Buffalo’s offense is tailor-made for a rookie QB. Watson would be protected and have less pressure on his shoulders due to their rushing prowess, allowing the offense to move. This was the formula the Dallas Cowboys used to make Dak Prescott the Offensive Rookie of the Year and one that will be modelled by many teams in the near future. Watson had great success in college with a stud receiver in Mike Williams and this would give both Watson and Sammy Watkins great fantasy value while likely increasing Lesean McCoy’s workload also.
Deshaun Watson could not have chosen a better time to turn in some of his greatest collegiate performances. The Clemson quarterback has decided to enter the 2017 NFL Draft and his stock has never been higher, coming off a championship season.
When analysing Watson through a wide lens it is clear to see that he cuts the figure of a modern quarterback. Measuring in at 6’2’’ and 207 lbs, Watson is the smallest of the ‘Big 3’ quarterbacks of this class (including Mitch Trubisky and Deshone Kizer) yet Watson plays bigger and taller than that on tape, standing tall in the pocket in the face of pressure while having the ability to extend plays with his feet. Watson also has a much more extensive college résumé than his other two counterparts. Watson has plenty of experience from being a multi-year starter and with two National Championship game appearances in which he had stellar play, it is safe to say he shows up on the biggest stage.
Being on such a successful team, Watson has played countless ranked, talented teams and more often than not come out on top. Pro-ready or not, Watson has a knack for winning and has the game-winning drives to prove it. These intangibles should not be overlooked as a quarterback’s job at any level of football is to be the coolest guy on the field. When the moment is its biggest Deshaun Watson has showed plenty of times that he can be the guy.
The most impressive thing about Watson is while he has a big arm, every throw seems to have some touch on it. No matter whether it is a deep ball or screen, his range never suffers because of it and every pass is therefore more catchable and tougher to be intercepted as Watson’s touch allows him to place every throw. Watson still has the power to drive balls when needed but unlike last year’s draft prospect Carson Wentz, not every pass has a flat arc.
However, although this touch is impressive, at times it is also inconsistent. Watson’s interception total could have been a lot higher, especially in the red zone, this season as he sometimes struggles with under and overthrows. Overthrows aren’t necessarily too big of an issue, Marcus Mariota, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz all struggled with overthrows in college too and the result is often only an incompletion. Underthrows however are deadly as underthrown balls allow stacked cornerbacks, under-cutting safeties and spying linebackers to all add to their interception total.
Often after an interception from an underthrown ball, Watson would then appear spooked for a few plays and tended to force passes. A combination of wanting to make up for his mistake and a strong pass rush made Watson trigger happy and frantically eager to make a play. This season most of his forced passes broke his way, but the law of averages suggests that that will even out if it continues.
As a lighter guy, Watson is able to utilise his legs much more effectively than either Kizer or Trubisky and this is one of his most proficient talents. Watson ran the QB read impeccably at Clemson and his quick twitch athleticism meant he would be 6 yards downfield before the defense even knew he had kept the ball. This athleticism shows up time and time again on film as he demonstrates his elusiveness and a knack for escaping pressure, leading to very few sacks being taken.
Watson sometimes relies on his quick feet in the pocket a little too much however and so his footwork in the pocket could use some work. His speed and quickness often made up for his sluggish pocket footwork but in the NFL this will need to be tightened up as teams will likely set the edge and force him to throw from the pocket to negate his rushing ability.
One big concern with Watson is his failure to identify trick coverages and walk straight into defensive traps. This became more of an issue against more accomplished defenses and is very apparent in his match-up against Florida State. For a quarterback with so much game experience it is concerning that Watson fails to identify spy and robber coverages and so when he stares down a receiver (which he has a tendency to do when holding onto the ball for too long), safeties are able to read his eyes and undercut his passes for interceptions.
However, the majority of the time (due to the nature of the offense) Watson made quick reads and his quick release and arm strength allowed him to negate pass rushers and prevented him from holding onto the ball and staring down receivers and he was able to drive his offense down the field remarkably quickly.
Wherever he lands in the draft Watson is unlikely to be instantly named the day one starter and he will either have to compete with veterans or simply be red-shirted. However, I think it is likely if he goes to a team with quarterback needs and is not taken as a project to sit and observe for a few seasons in say Pittsburgh or Kansas City, Watson is likely to play at some point during his rookie campaign.
Thank you for reading, follow Will on twitter @willpendosports
Editor's note: This is Part 3 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, wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends throughout the offseason.
Coming out of the 2015 season, the 2016 quarterback landscape was looking good. In 2015 all of the top 13 QBs threw for 30+ touchdowns and the top 6 all had over 300 fantasy points. In 2016 however, only five players threw 30+ touchdowns and only three QBs topped the 300 fantasy point bar. So, what did we learn about the quarterback position this fantasy season? Did anything go right or was this just simply a down year for quarterbacks?
We learned that…mechanics make the wheel go round
2016 was the year the general football consensus learned the importance of QB mechanics. Many quarterbacks have managed to skate by on arm talent alone and that makes them good fantasy options for one season. But inconsistent mechanics means inconsistent quarterback play and this means inconsistent fantasy production in the long run, explaining the huge drop off in quarterback production from 2015 to 2016.
Brock Osweiler was at the helm of arguably the most talented offense in the NFL. Surrounded by DeAndre Hopkins, Lamar Miller and Will Fuller, Osweiler’s lethargic wind-up and sluggish release resulted in batted balls and many uncatchable targets due to his side-arm release.
The same goes for Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles. The Jags offensive performance in 2015 garnered questions as to whether they were home to the best wide receiver tandem in the league in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Bortles’ terrible 2016 mechanics resulted in Allen Robinson, a borderline 1st/2nd round pick in August, becoming effectively unusable this season as Bortles began to drop the ball below his elbow in his wind up leading to an unnecessarily long release and producing overthrown passes.
Even last year’s MVP Cam Newton along with rookie prospect Carson Wentz had their mechanical flaws expose them this season. Relying on arm strength alone leads to inaccuracy and produces passes often too low for receivers to catch. Forced passes and backfoot throws are all traits of a quarterback’s reliance on their arm strength and often result in passes being too far behind receivers. Using your arm instead of your body is a quick recipe for an interception. Neither player steps into their throws and so they struggle to throw with touch and anticipation.
Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees on the other hand have perfect mechanics and it comes as no surprise that both of them are consistently top 5 fantasy quarterbacks, with the odd SuperBowl thrown in too.
We learned that…mojo doesn’t last
Momentum is a term we hear a lot regarding NFL offenses and it is often why fantasy owners worry when their players return from their bye-weeks as offense is all about practice, repetition and chemistry. Offenses that can keep their momentum going throughout the season are both NFL gold and fantasy gold.
In 2015 we saw that a few offenses certainly were feeling their mojo and this lead to stellar quarterback play. Cam Newton, Blake Bortles and Carson Palmer were all part of high-flying offenses last year and all finished as top 5 fantasy quarterbacks.
However, without relatively much changing, all three of those quarterbacks failed to repeat this in 2016, with Newton following his QB1 season finishing as the QB18 and Palmer slotting in right behind him. Strangely enough, the much maligned Blake Bortles finished as the best of the bad bunch with a confusing QB8 ranking.
As we all accept Bortles is a fantasy anomaly year on year, the rankings clearly show that momentum doesn’t carry over through the offseason. With this in mind, beware of drafting the wildly inform quarterbacks from this season again in 2017. I’m looking at you Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford.
We learned about…the new kids on the fantasy block
2016 however, wasn’t all bad. With Peyton Manning retiring and Tom Brady and Drew Brees getting up there in years, 2016 saw the birth of the new crop of fantasy studs. Derek Carr (QB9), Marcus Mariota (QB15) and of course Dak Prescott (QB6) had a coming out party this year.
Carr was an MVP candidate this season and probably would’ve finished as a top 5 QB without his injury in week 16. Mariota, who was also similarly injured to Carr in week 16, was complete gold-dust early in the season with three top 5 finishes in quick succession and threw for two or more touchdowns in two thirds of the games he played in in 2016.
And we couldn’t discuss young quarterbacks without talking about the man of the moment, Dak Prescott. Prescott finished 2016 tied 5th for total touchdowns with 29 but the true measure of Prescott’s greatness this year has been in his ability to limit his interception total with only 4 INTs. Not only does that result in less negative points but it also keeps drives alive and results in more scoring opportunities for Prescott, who has also demonstrated legitimate rushing capability too.
We learned to…please wait on QB
If 2016 has taught us anything, it is that you please, PLEASE wait on a quarterback when you draft next season. Unless you’re drafting Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, there is no need to take a quarterback in the first 6 rounds. Top RBs and WRs are so few and far between and with injuries too, the need to stockpile your skill position players is greater than ever before. Fantasy is usually uses only one quarterback per line-up and as quarterback is so deep there is no need to waste a high pick on a brand name quarterback. Instead take a RB/WR and wait for a sensible upside QB.
For example, Ben Roethlisberger had a 6th round ADP and finished as the QB16 whereas Dak Prescott for instance had a 12th round ADP and finished as the QB6. It doesn’t stop there either; Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr were all available in rounds 10-12 and all finished as top 10 QBs this season. But the craziest thing of all…Matt Ryan was undrafted this year in the majority of leagues. Wait and bet on upside, you might just wind up picking up the QB2 off the waiver wire.
Thank you for reading, you can follow Will Pendleton on twitter @willpendosports
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.
I promise that this article does discuss Donte Moncrief, but bear with me while I discuss the offensive situation of the Colts first.
Andrew Luck is back, and he has a lot to prove after signing his $140 million contract extension. I know he didn’t play well last year, but a lot has changed since then. Rob “Chud” Chudzinski is the offensive coordinator, the Colts bolstered their offensive line in the draft, and Luck is finally healthy.
With Pep Hamilton out and Chud in we can expect the Colts to start attacking the field vertically, like a Bruce Arians type of Colts offense from 2012. With Arians in charge Luck finished his rookie season as the #11 fantasy QB and set the NFL record for most passing yards by a rookie QB. The Colts were 9-3 in the 12 games with Arians under the helm.
In the one game that Luck and Chud played together Luck put up 252 yards, 2 TDs, 0 turnovers, and was only sacked one time. Don’t forget that this game was also against the Super Bowl Champions themselves, the Denver Broncos. The game against the Colts was the only game in the 2016 season when Von Miller and company failed to sack the quarterback more than once.
Now insert Ryan Kelly. He is a strong and athletic center who the Colts took with their first round draft pick. His physical abilities plus his high football IQ will solidify the offensive line. I predict a good showing from the Colts O-line this year, which created the majority of the offensive problems for the Colts.
We can get to Donte Moncrief now. Keeping all of the aforementioned information in mind let me give you a few stats about Moncrief, T.Y. Hilton, and Luck. In the 7 games that Andrew Luck played in last season these are the stats for those two receivers: Hilton 31 catches, 548 yards, and 3 TDs for a total of 70 fantasy points in a standard league (101 PPR). Moncrief: 32 catches, 351 yards, and 5 TDs for a total of 62 fantasy points (94 PPR). Very close production for the No. 1 and No. 3 wide receivers on the depth chart.
Now I’m a guy that’s all about player consistency. I’d rather have the running back who puts up his 10 points each week than the one who switches off between 15 and 5 point weeks. Hell, I’d rather have one that puts up 9 points each week. I think that constant production is the key to winning.
I also want to note that Hilton had one game with 150 yards and 2 TDs, a total of 27 fantasy points. That’s over 38% of his seven week production in 1 game. Each of the receivers had a down week of two, but Moncrief scored at least 9 points in 5 of those 7 games. Hilton only managed to do it in 3 games. Now Hilton was the 24th best WR last year while Moncrief only came in at 38th, but bad offensive line play and a banged up Matt Hasselbeck made the Colts offense very inconsistent for the other 9 games.
Hilton’s inconsistency dates back to 2014. He had 6 games with 6 points or less and 6 games with 12 points or more. I’ll give him credit though, some of those 12+ point games were incredible performances. A 223 yard, 1 TD performance against the Texans and a 150 yard, 2 TD performance against the Browns. In his 3 best games last year Hilton put up 528 yards and 4 TDs. T.Y. put up almost 40% of his yardage total and over 57% of his touchdown total in just a quarter of his games. I don’t think it’s a fair to compare the 2014 seasons of Hilton and Moncrief as it was Donte rookie year.
Moncrief should see significantly more playing time in 2016 with the departure of Andre Johnson. Johnson played 710 offense snaps in 2015 as the team’s second string WR.
FantasyPros currently has Hilton as the 28th best player this year and the 15th best WR. Moncrief is ranked as the 58th best player and the 27th best WR. We know Andrew Luck is going to get the ball down the field as both WRs are deep threats, but Moncrief is going to be the better bargain. Hilton may end up with more fantasy points at the end of the year, but Moncrief is going to be the consistent scorer. He could even finish with nearly as many points as T.Y., and he’s going 3 rounds later. Bypass Hilton in the early rounds and snag a mid-round gem. #FeedMoncrief
Coby Fleener is coming off of his worst season since his rookie year of 2012. He is leaving his college teammate Andrew Luck after four seasons to play with another elite quarterback in Drew Brees. The situation is great for both the Saints and Fleener. The Saints need a TE who can replace Jimmy Graham and no offense to Benjamin Watson, but I don’t think you’re that guy. Fleener can be that TE. I’m not saying he’s going to put up the 1,200 yards and 16 TDs that Graham did in 2014. But with Sean Payton’s offense, Fleener will have his best fantasy season yet.
The Saints have been blessed with Drew Brees and Sean Payton since 2006. The Saints worst finish in net passing yards in the Brees-Payton era was 4th.
Brees is a huge reason why the Saints offense has had so much success. I would argue that he is the epitome of consistent and great quarterback production. Since moving to New Orleans Brees has averaged over 4,800 yards and almost 38 touchdowns per season. He also only missed two games during that span. From 2011-2014, Brees averaged almost 5,200 yards and over 40 touchdowns per season.
In the same four year period, Jimmy Graham averaged 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns. That accounted for 21% of Drew Brees’ passing yardage and 28% of his touchdowns. That is incredible production from the TE spot. While it’s easy to think that Jimmy Graham is much better than Coby Fleener, they are comparable players.
Graham stands at 6’7” and weighs 265 lbs. Fleener is 6’6” and weighs 251 lbs. Graham’s 40 yard dash time is 4.56 while Fleener’s is 4.51. Both players are reliable catching the ball. Over the past three seasons, each player has dropped 12 passes, accounting for 3.3% of Graham’s targets and 4.3% of Fleener’s targets. Each player is thought of as a receiving TE, as both have received criticism for their poor blocking skills.
The following is the end of the season ranking in terms of total fantasy points for the starting TE in New Orleans since 2009: 18 (2009), 23 (2010), 2 (2011), 1 (2012), 1 (2013), 3 (2014), 7 (2015). It’s also important to keep in mind that 2010 was Jimmy Graham’s rookie year, and that 2009 was the only year he played football in college.
Last year the starting TE for the Saints was an aging Benjamin Watson. Even at the age of 36, he managed to haul in 74 receptions for 825 yards and 6 TDs. That stat line was good enough for 118 fantasy points, tied for 7th best with Travis Kelce. Even without an elite tight end, the Saints are getting production from that position. Now insert Coby Fleener, who’s an upgrade from Watson. Fleener is easily going to out produce a player past his prime, after a terrible 2015 campaign he is going to be eager to produce.
Sean Payton’s TE friendly offense is going to continue with Coby Fleener. Drew Brees is going to continue to air the ball out and Fleener will reap the rewards. I predict that he will finish in the top 5 this year. There might be a little bit of growing pains with Fleener learning a new offense, but Brees and Fleener will develop great chemistry. Fleener is currently ranked as the 7th best tight end by FantasyPros, and his ADP is 79th. I’m drafting him a bit earlier than that. The risk is well worth the reward taking Fleener in the 6th round.
These are a series of notes on why Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman has had such a breakout season midway through 2015. One of the reasons why we love football is for its parity, and Freeman is a classic example of a breakout RB nobody saw coming. Here I look at the Redskins/Falcons game where Freeman posted high quality stats and see where he was successful and try to point out why.
At age 23, Freeman is in his second season and has an NFL-leading 9 touchdowns at the running back position. With three games of over 100 yards through seven weeks to go along with two 3-touchdown efforts, Freeman has been by far the biggest breakout fantasy running back of the season so far.
Notes from game vs. Washington Redskins
Freeman's stats in that one: 27 carries for 153 yards, 1 touchdown, 7 receptions for 44 yards
Some of the things I've noticed when watching Freeman run in this game was his ability to place his hand on the ground to re-establish his balance after contact with a defender. By doing this, he managed to turn a negative gain into a positive one in the first quarter. It happened on zone stretch play off the right side. The Redskins defensive tackle got off his block quickly and penetrated the backfield. The DT got his arm on Freeman as he ran through the hole.
While most running backs would've got tripped out for a loss, Freeman stumbled but used his off-hand and kept his knee from hitting the ground all while keeping his feet moving for a positive gain. It may not seem like much, but running backs who can create positive yardage even when their blocking isn't ideal can instill a lot of confidence in both the player, coaching staff and overall team. This kind of gain comes from a competitive drive within the runner to finish the play and get the most yardage possible. It can become contagious and lead to bigger gains as the game progresses due to the defense tiring out and also from the confidence within the entire team which I mentioned earlier.
Another thing I've noticed is Freeman's speed doesn't change throughout his run. His initial burst is very quick and he maintains that speed to the outside. He's patient when setting up his blocks where he has to cut off a blocker. This makes it difficult for defenders to react quick enough even if they get off their blocks since Freeman has typically already moved past them by that time.
Freeman is also a smart runner in terms of vision. When I say 'smart,' I mean he knows how to use the blockers in front of him and choose the correct lane to run in. When there's not a clear lane, Freeman can make one by framing blocks. When I say 'frame,' I mean he'll run right behind a lineman's butt and then cut off him so as to keep the defender from guessing which way he's going to cut and making it more difficult for the lineman to maintain his block. This also causes other defenders to get sucked into the lineman's block as well since Freeman is so close to his blocker, which sometimes results in both defenders knocking into each other and effectively cancel each other. I saw a lot of that when I looked at C.J. Anderson's tape from last season. Another running back who's very good at being patient at this is Le'Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Anderson was very good at reading the blocks that were in front of him and he clearly had the utmost trust those blocks would be there. and Freeman has proven no different, and sometimes success at the running back position is as simple as not trying to do too much and just hitting the hole with decisiveness. It's an instinctual reaction to what's in front of you, and how quickly you make up your mind and decide which hole to run through and whether or not it's the correct decision makes all the difference.
The zone stretch play to the left side was absolute money for Atlanta in this game. In fact, all of Freeman's biggest gains on a late fourth quarter drive came on left side runs. The Falcons offensive line did an exceptional job blocking and Freeman was decisive on all of those runs.