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
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When it comes to finding a premium RB1 to lead your team, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better situation than Cincinnati. Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson loves to run like Blake Bortles loves to throw to Allen Robinson. Last season, the Bengals averaged 30 rushing attempts per game, which ranked sixth overall among NFL teams. Only the quarterback-challenged Texans, Rex Ryan's Jets, run-heavy Seattle, Carolina and the DeMarco Murray-led Cowboys ran the ball more.
Of course, you can't have a good running game without a talented running back and the Bengals found a gem with rookie Jeremy Hill. A second-round pick out of LSU in 2014, Hill blew the doors off any tempered expectations in his rookie season, finishing with 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns on 5.1 yards per carry.
Hill saved his best for the final stretch of the season, amassing nearly 400 yards over his last three games while averaging about 24 attempts per game to go along with 3 of his 9 total touchdowns. It's always important to notice how young players finish out the season as it can serve as a tell-tale sign of what's in store for the following year.
In terms of ADP, Hill is currently being drafted as the 10th overall running back, a great value considering he's going just after LeSean McCoy, a player not a lot of people are high on this season.
A healthy RB is a good RB
When the season finally ended, Hill answered several questions a fantasy owner would have when drafting a potential RB1 and one of the most important was his durability. With no injuries at all in 2014 and nothing lingering from his college days either, Hill embodied the kind of reliability we love to see among younger running backs at a position that's one of the hardest to stay healthy at.
Stellar supporting cast
Hill also has the benefit of running behind one of the better offensive lines in the league, with left tackle Andrew Whitworth putting together one of his best seasons ever. The line suffered a little bit due to fellow tackle Andre Smith missing time, but he's back now and should help solidify what was already a stout run-blocking group.
The receivers in Cincinnati aren't too shabs either, with Top 5 wideout A.J. Green helping to keep defenses honest. Green was sidelined last season with turf toe and missed two games. Turf toe is an injury that can linger, so he might be at risk to aggravate it in 2015. Still, he's among the most talented of wideouts when he's healthy, and Hill can only benefit.
How Hill got where he is and what you should look for in matchups
Hill's first big game came as a result of opportunity (like most great fantasy performances do). When then-starter Bernard injured his hip in Week 8, causing him to leave the game and miss the next three contests, Hill stepped up and flourished.
In his first true start as a Bengal, Hill feasted on a great matchup against an offensively inept Jacksonville team and took off. It's always a good idea to start a running back going against a team that struggles to score since it often leads to more rushing opportunities for the winning team. Hill finished with 154 yards on what was a season-high 24 carries for him up to that point in addition to 2 touchdowns. He solidified his role in Jackson's offense with that performance and would go on to have four more 100-yard games and maintained his role as the team's top back even when Bernard returned.
Bernard still a factor
While it might be apparent Hill is the top gun, backup Giovani Bernard still poses a threat to steal touches even after a dominant season from Hill. Bernard averaged a solid 4.0 yards per carry on 680 yards and five touchdowns of his own in 2014. More importantly, Bernard caught 43 passes for 349 yards. His ability to get up the field after the catch is very good and will likely keep him relevant in Cincinnati's offense. Of the total running back workload, Hill finished with 222 carries to Gio's 168, which isn't a huge discrepancy considering Bernard missed three game.
One factor working against Bernard is injury risk. He already has one surgically repaired knee dating back to his college days in North Carolina to go along with a hip injury last season which caused him to miss time. While he still managed to turn in a solid season, Bernard remains a high-risk player due to his inability to stay healthy.
Knowing when to use Hill in DFS
If you play daily fantasy, knowing which particular game a running back will cash in is key. One variable that factored into the Bengals success running the ball was home field advantage. The Bengals ran with a 31.9 attempts per game average in the old jungle, which makes sense considering they tended to get out to quick leads at home.
If you're drafting in the 7-10 range in your redraft league, Hill is definitely among the top running backs available. He's in a better situation than LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray, and will likely eat up chunks of yardage due to the offense he's in and the talented offensive line blocking for him.
Editor's note: Our bullet point articles are written to better explain our weekly rankings, which you can find here.
Start of the week
Le'Veon Bell at Cincinnati
Bell has been one of the biggest surprises of this season. Yeah, he was expected to be a solid RB2, but the numbers he's putting up are reminiscent of Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles. Like Charles, Bell managed to string together an eight catch, 159 yard receiving effort that was similar to Charles' eight catch, 195 yards receiving against Oakland in 2013. The major difference between those two games were the touchdowns though, as Charles found the end zone four times while Bell didn't score once.
Scoring shouldn't be an issue for Bell this week though. The Bengals give up the sixth most points to fantasy running backs (19.6 per game) and Bell has rushed for a touchdown in last two contests. He's on pace for 2,000 total yards this season, making him one of the most versatile fantasy backs of the 2014 season. He's as good a bet as any to rush for 100 yards and score two touchdowns this week.
Joique Bell vs. Tampa Bay
From one Bell to another, Joique is coming off his best game of the season where he rushed for two touchdowns and 91 yards against the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving. He's been somewhat inconsistent when finding the end zone as he hadn't scored four weeks prior to his two-touchdown effort. Even with that, he's been the most reliable running back on the Detroit Lions, averaging 52 yards per game. He also has a good matchup against a bad Tampa Bay rushing defense that gives up 18.1 fantasy points to running backs.
The Buccaneers defense has played a little better since the start of the season, with Gerald McCoy being a plug up the middle. But while the Buccaneer front four has given Tampa an edge, teams can still run the ball on them with reasonable success on the edges. Matt Forte rushed for 89 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries (3.9 ypc) and the Bengals dual threat of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill combined for 109 yards. Tampa's secondary ranks among the worst in the league as well, so Bell's receiving ability in the flat and on short routes could be equally effective. He's a good flex play this week.
Tre Mason at Washington
Mason has a lot going for him in this matchup, and it starts with all the problems going on in Washington. The Redskins have been a mess in the locker room, with reports that Jay Gruden wants quarterback Robert Griffin III off the team after this season. It's so bad that even one of his own teammates blasted him over the weekend. When your team has lost confidence and seemingly the will to play hard because of negative vibes, it's never a good situation. And that's not just some woo-woo speculative armchair analysis (ok maybe a little) but it really does impact a team's performance on the field.
Defensively, The Redskins have been very stout against the run this season but injuries are starting to take a toll. Starting linebacker and leading tackler Keenan Robinson has been battling a sprained MCL and hasn't practiced all week. Sack leader Brandon Meriweather (also a prolific tackler) is battling a sprained toe and hasn't practiced either. Meriweather is listed as doubtful while Robinson is questionable. Key pass rusher and run stopper Jason Hatcher is also questionable as is Chris Baker. On offense, DeSean Jackson is dealing with a shin injury and didn't practice Friday, he may be a scratch as well which could limit the offense since he's Washington's leading receiver.
Now on to the Rams. Mason had his coming out party against the Raiders last week, rushing for 117 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. He's become one of the key factors in the Rams' success. When Mason rushes for at least 60 yards, the Rams are 4-1 and when he rushes for over 100 yards, the Rams are 2-0. Expect St. Louis to ride Mason once again and while he might not explode for the big yardage he did against Oakland, he should still hover around the 70-90 yard mark and one touchdown.
Denard Robinson vs. Houston
Shoelace will need to double knot this Sunday after falling back to earth over the last few weeks. After several strong performances that included back-to-back 100 yard games in relief of starter Toby Gerhart earlier in the year, defenses are gearing up for him better. Teams are stacking the box since they know Robinson is perhaps the biggest offensive threat with Blake Bortles still going through growing pains as a rookie. All of that planning has really limited Robinson's value.
Another reason for caution could be Robinson's struggles in pass blocking. The Jaguars surrendered seven sacks to the New York Giants last week, and two of those were a result of Robinson's blown coverage. Dealing with a pass rush that includes J.J. Watt this week won't make it any easier. If the Jaguars elect to pass more and go after Houston's weak secondary, Robinson could see a smaller portion of the snaps.
The Jaguars have also been experimenting a lot since they know they're no longer in the playoff chase. Bortles will continue to get his reps so the staff can evaluate him and while the rookie quarterback is nursing shoulder and ankle injuries, expect the Jaguars' staff to keep testing out his skills so they can help him improve next season. If they pass a lot against Houston and Robinson is forced to come out due to his pass protection liabilities, then Shoelace could get lost in the shuffle.
An all-out Eifert will be required to ensure your team is among the best it can possibly be. As the fantasy playoffs near, it's always good to have depth at each position on your roster so you can plan for injuries and give yourself a shot at a more favorable matchup.
When it comes to the tight end position, quality performances on a repeat basis can be hard to come by at times. So far this fantasy season, only about seven tight ends (Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Gates, Julius Thomas, Martellus Bennett, Greg Olsen, Delanie Walker, Dwayne Allen and Jimmy Graham) have more than 60 fantasy points. The first five of those TEs could be considered in the top tier this year, while the next two make up the 'slightly below No. 1 tier'. After those seven, there's a bit of a drop off with Travis Kelce, Larry Donnell, Heath Miller, Owen Daniels and Zach Ertz making up the 'feast or famine' No.2 tier.
So if you don't have one of those seven (and there's about a 50 percent chance you don't if you're in a 12 or 14 team league), you might want to take a look at a few other options especially as the playoffs near. If you have one of the lower tier tight ends listed above, giving another guy a shot at being your No. 1 tight end could make a difference when it matters most.
The case for Eifert
One of the players most owners will be looking at in the coming weeks is Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, a second-year man out of Notre Dame who's due to return from I.R. by Week 11 after suffering an elbow injury in Week 1. He caught all three of his targets for 37 yards before going down in that one game.
Possessing soft hands, Eifert stands an impressive 6'6, 250 lbs and his speed is something of a mystery still. While he was initially dubbed a Jason Witten clone coming out, Eifert impressed scouts with his speed after he ran a 4.6 40, which was the fourth fastest time among all tight ends. You factor that in with his height and this is somebody who has all the tools to be great.
the Bengals are also invested in him since they drafted him in the first round of the 2013 draft. Plus, on a team riddled with injuries to its receiving core, Eifert steps into a favorable situation where his services could be relied upon much more than last year.
As a rookie in 2013, Eifert recorded at least one catch in 15 games and finished with 39 catches for 445 yards and two touchdowns. While his two touchdowns were a bit underwhelming and he never recorded a 100-yard game, Eifert displayed a knack for remaining involved in an offense that was crowded with the likes of fellow tight end Jermaine Gresham, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Giovani Bernard and of course, A.J. Green.
When you factor in the fact that Bernard was one of the most targeted running backs in the league last season, it made it that much more difficult for Eifert to find his spot within the offense. It's no surprise he wasn't making a huge impact. Eifert finished the 2013 season with 59 targets, which ranked sixth behind Gresham, Sanu, A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, and Bernard.
Keep in mind, young receivers often take a little longer to become difference makers in the first few years of their career. Guys like Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez didn't begin to put up fantasy worthy numbers until their second and third years. Not saying Eifert will put up those numbers eventually, it's just worth noting that receiving tight ends don't come out and crush it immediately.
A brighter picture for him in 2014
Eifert won't have to compete with so many other receivers for targets like he did last season. With Jones out for the year, there's 80 targets up for grabs right there. Bernard isn't seeing the kind of targets he did last year as the Bengals have become more of a run team under new coach Hue Jackson.
Also, There's less of a chance Gresham interferes with Eifert's production like last season, as the fifth-year tight end hasn't been much of a factor with just 28 catches for 211 yards and zero touchdowns in 2014. There were even talks of him possibly getting traded which would've given Eifert's value an even bigger boost, but now that the trade deadline has passed it's unlikely that will happen.
Eifert is currently on schedule to return for Cincy's Week 11 matchup against the New Orleans Saints, a team that ranks 31st in the league in passing yards allowed per game (289). The next three games are good matchups as well with Houston (28th against the pass), Tampa Bay (30th against the pass) and Pittsburgh (19th against the pass).
What you should do about it
Since he's not due back until a few more weeks, it'd be wise to grab Eifert either now or next week before he becomes more of a wanted man. It'd be best to acquire him without wasting a waiver pickup unless your tight end spot is your greatest weakness. Still, there's not a lot of receiving tight ends with more upside than Eifert at the moment. He's well worth the acquisition especially if your team appears destined for the playoffs and needs a few more quality depth guys to ensure you don't get snake bitten by an unlucky injury.
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