Running backs adept at catching the football are often revered in fantasy football. They can turn an average fantasy scoring day into a good one, a good one into a great one, a great one into a historic one and a historic one into something you think is really, really awesome. More importantly, backs who catch the ball can alleviate the pain of a bad fantasy day on the ground, which allows the running back to become 'matchup proof.'
What is 'matchup proof?'
'Matchup proof' means a running back is startable no matter who he's playing against, and one way a receiving back becomes matchup proof is by defying game script. For example, if a running back finds his team down by 30 points in the first half and his team needs to pass more to get back into the game, he'll still accrue fantasy points because he'll likely be targeted on check down passes.
While receiving is a big factor in creating consistency among RBs, it's not the only trait a running back needs to possess. He also must be a talented inside runner, a back who can generate tough yards after contact with big defenders on runs up the gut and also possess the vision and instincts to make sharp cuts up the field. This is even more true in zone blocking schemes.
Among the traits listed above, Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson definitely fits the receiving mold, and while he hasn't shown the ability to run the ball effectively between the tackles, it's unfair to think he can't do it because he hasn't gotten a real shot at the team's 'feature back' role. He also possesses the kind of instincts and athletic ability required to make plays in the run game. In this piece, we will examine if Johnson could emerge as a breakout fantasy candidate in 2017.
Where he could be of considerable value
Going back to Johnson's receiving ability, it's very clear he's had potential in PPR leagues. Johnson was targeted 68 times in 2016, good for 5th most among all NFL running backs. He also ranked seventh in yards per reception at 9.7. Despite all this though, he only finished RB48 in PPR leagues, right around where T.J. Yeldon, Theo Riddick and Alfred Blue ended up.
While the result wasn't ideal, the potential was definitely there given Johnson's role in the offense. More importantly, we've seen smaller receiving backs have very good fantasy seasons — even in standard leagues.
One example of this is Danny Woodhead in 2015. Featured in a passing offense alongside Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers, Woodhead finished as a Top 10 fantasy back in 2015 and it was largely due to his receiving stats. Woodhead caught 80 passes for 755 yards and scored six touchdowns that season. He was also targeted over 100 times total.
Standing just 5'8, 200 lbs, Woodhead benefited from an offense that scored a lot, which allowed him to see 37 red zone targets in 2015, which far exceeded anyone else on the team.
Like Woodhead in 2015, Duke Johnson's role in the passing game was prominent in 2016. Unlike Woodhead though, Johnson didn't have a Pro Bowl quarterback in Rivers throwing him the ball. He instead dealt with a merry-go-round of QBs that consisted of a still-inept Robert Griffin III, a veteran in Josh McCown who also struggled, and a rookie in Cody Kessler who was actually the best of the bunch.
Overall, the poor situation hurt Johnson's touchdown value, as he saw only 14 red zone looks in 2016. If we're going to expect bigger things from Johnson in 2016, the Browns must improve their quarterback situation.
Hope for a bigger role
Johnson also had to deal with playing second fiddle to Isaiah Crowell, who saw 34 red zone attempts in 2016 also.
While Crowell was the team's dominant inside runner in 2016, he struggled with consistency as 518 of his 952 rushing yards came in four games, making him a liability from week to week. He was also woeful in pass protection.
Crowell also finished out the final year of his contract in 2016 and the latest talk of an extension appears unlikely. While Crow managed 7 touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards on the year, it's likely the Browns will want to spend their money elsewhere since Crowell was only valuable on first and second down and didn't change the course of the Browns dismal 2016 season.
Crowell and Johnson are not too far off from each other in terms of talent either. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson and Crowell graded out about the same in running and receiving. Plus, Johnson carried the ball only 73 times in 2016, which gives him less wear-and-tear for next season and makes you wonder if he could play better if he gets more carries in the offense.
Hope for a better situation
It's likely Cleveland will improve its situation at the quarterback position in 2017. Imagine if they locked down a quarterback like, say, Jimmy Garoppolo from New England? A quarterback with better accuracy could allow Johnson a lot more opportunity to catch the ball in stride and make plays out of the backfield. This will be something to monitor heading into the offseason.
It's absolutely possible Duke Johnson could put together a 700+ yard receiving season given his talent, but he needs some help. He has the talent as a receiver and a good coaching staff that can maximize his skill set. He just needs a quality quarterback to go along with a bigger role in the offense next season. The latter variables could definitely turn in his favor in 2017. Keep an eye on how things fall together this offseason.
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
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.
On Thursday's edition of the podcast, the Helpers talk about their favorite sleeper picks and also give out some daily fantasy advice regarding quarterbacks. Daily fantasy football is a blast to play, and if you want to join some contests, here are some links.
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.
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.
Green Bay Packers
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.
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.
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.
Photo Courtesy of Neon Tommy Flickr Page
Entering the 2014 fantasy draft, Montee Ball was being scooped up early by fantasy owners who thought they had found the next big thing. Those that expected RB1 numbers from Ball were sadly mistaken, as a season of injuries and the emergence of CJ Anderson caused him to finish as the 90th RB overall in standard scoring behind teammates CJ Anderson (11th overall) and Ronnie Hillman (41 overall). To put how disappointing Ball's season was into perspective, Ball finished with only 27.4 fantasy points on the season in 5 games played. These beyond disappointing numbers in 2014 killed many owners fantasy seasons, but now the hopefuls are looking to the future... and the future's name is CJ Anderson. Entering 2015, Anderson is going in current mocks between the late first to second round, eerily similar to Ball's ADP entering 2014. Could this spell disaster for Anderson next season? This analyst thinks that the clear answer is a resounding 'no.' Let's take a look at both backs in order to find proof that Anderson is not doomed to repeat the failures of Montee Ball.
Evidence vs. Speculation
In 2013, Knowshon Moreno finished as the #5 fantasy running back with Ball (next big thing) showing flashes of greatness. When Moreno left the Broncos after the 2013 season, the fantasy world was abuzz that Ball would be the workhorse back and repeat Moreno's numbers in 2014. This was pure speculation. In his entire rookie season, Ball never had more than 15 carries per game and averaged only 7.5. In other words, Ball was never the bell cow in the Broncos' 2013 offense so to expect him to just take that role in 2014 was nothing but a hopeful prediction. Additionally, Ball only had a single 100+ yard game (13 carries for 117 yards) and in that game had a single rush for 45 yards. Remove that rush and Ball had 12 carries for 72 yards, which while still impressive is not RB1 material. Finally, even though Ball showed some flashes of being a viable fantasy starter in 2015, there was one glaring statistic that should have made people realize he couldn't be the workhorse back in 2014. In his rookie season, on rushing attempts 11-20 Ball averaged only 3.4 yards per carry. In other words, when Ball was given more than 10 carries per game, his stats dropped significantly.
After taking a look at the numbers, it seems that there's a bit more evidence supporting Anderson's case. In the first nine weeks of 2014 Anderson tallied only 17 carries. In week 10, he began to take the reins and rushed for 90 yards on 13 carries (6.9 yards per carry). Fully taking over the backfield in week 12, he averaged 23 carries per game (140 carries in 6 weeks) and 4.6 yards per carry (648 yards on 140 carries) for the remainder of the season. This is the definition of a workhorse back, a role that Montee Ball never actually achieved in 2013. And remember that glaring statistic of Montee Ball only averaging 3.4 yards per carry after 10 rushes? It doesn't seem like Anderson has that problem. On carries 11-20, Anderson averages 4.3 yards per carry, and on carries 21-30, he averages 4.9 yards per carry. These are the type of numbers required from a workhorse back and should continue in 2015.
Wear and Tear
Montee Ball and CJ Anderson are both only 24 years old, and should have good long careers ahead of them right? While they could both have long careers ahead of them, the level of wear and tear of Ball is MUCH higher than that of Anderson. Now, I understand that CJ Anderson has 186 career carries in the NFL while Ball has only 175, but this goes beyond the NFL. In his 4 year college career, Ball rushed 924 times for an impressive 5140 yards (5.6 avg) while in Anderson's short career rushed only 198 times for 1135 yards (5.7 avg). A lot of people forget that rookies entering the NFL don't have equal levels of wear and tear. While you can't say that Ball's injury in 2014 was directly caused by his heavy workload in college, it certainly didn't help. Likewise Anderson, even with his heavy workload in 2014, remained injury free and doesn't show any signs of slowing down. This could be a testament to his build and the toughness he has. Measuring in at 5'8" and 224 lbs, Anderson is simply a more durable back compared to the 5'10" 216 lbs Montee Ball. And even as a shorter and heavier back, Anderson has a bit more top speed than Ball. In fact, in addition to speed Anderson slights Ball in a few categories. Let's take a look at their combine results...
|* = Top Performer||40 Yard Dash||Bench Press||Vertical Jump||Broad Jump||3 Cone Drill||20 Yard Shuttle|
|17 reps||32"||119"||7.15 sec||4.12 sec*|
|Montee Ball||4.66 sec||15 reps||32"||118"||6.88 sec||4.40 sec|
Now I know these numbers are extremely close (too close to call really) but with how similar they are it makes you wonder why Ball was drafted in the second round while Anderson went undrafted.
Where to Target CJ Anderson in 2015
After crunching the numbers, it is clear that CJ Anderson has solidified himself as a workhorse-capable back. He is entering the 2015 season as the Broncos #1 back and with an expected reduced workload from Peyton Manning, Anderson looks like one of the best backs (situationally) for 2015. Additionally, with Gary Kubiak returning to the Broncos (this time as their head coach) I expect even more emphasis on the running game. In my opinion, if Kubiak (as offensive coordinator) was able to turn the journeyman, Justin Forsett into a viable fantasy starter, I can only imagine what he can do with a gem like CJ Anderson. Because Ball's ADP in 2014 was based on speculation and assumed potential, he failed to live up to the hype. In Anderson's case the hype is real! I expect Anderson to finish in the top 10 for RBs easily and could push the top 5. Look to scoop up Anderson in the back end of the first round or the very early second round.
Every season I like to put fantasy players into two different categories. The first category is a player that I BUY, or that I believe is going to possess above average fantasy value for the 2015 season. One the other hand, a player that I SELL is deemed as a player that I feel is either going to be a bust, or fall to live up to the expectations of their draft slot.
Buy: Teddy Bridgewater QB/Minnesota Vikings
If you follow me at all on twitter (@JoshMenschNFL) you will know that I am a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan, but I promise you my love for the fantasy potential of second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is not just a case of myself drinking the purple cool-aid. Going into the 2014 NFL Draft, a lot of people questioned Bridgewater from a number of ridiculous aspects including his preference to wear gloves, his "skinny knees" or my personal favorite — that he wasn't tough enough to play QB in the NFL (Played with a two severely sprained ankles and a broken wrist in college).
Bridgewater came out scorching hot in his first career start as he picked apart the Falcons defense for 317 yards passing and a rushing touchdown, a performance good enough to win him Pepsi's Rookie of the Week. In the next 7 weeks, Bridgwater definitely had the look of a rookie adjusting to the pace of the NFL game, sporting a worrisome 3:5 TD:INT as well as ranking in the bottom 10 in the NFL in yards-per-attempt (6.6).
With those numbers some of you may be wondering why someone with numbers like this would be a quarterback that you would want as a QB1 in fantasy football. In the second half of the season Bridgewater looked like a quarterback that was finally becoming comfortable running an NFL offense. In weeks 11-17 Pro Football Focus graded Bridgewater as the no. 3 quarterback in all of football (9.6), trailing just Drew Brees (13.6) and Aaron Rodgers (17.3), posting a much improved 11:7 TD:INT and a quarterback rating of 95.2.
Going into his sophomore season Bridgewater has a chance to take a major step forward, for a fraction of the price of some of the premier quarterbacks in fantasy football. Disgruntled running back Adrian Peterson's status is still unknown, but if he is still in a Vikings uniform that will no doubt relieve some pressure off of the young quarterback. Besides the charades that have been going on with Peterson the Vikings have been very active adding potential playmakers to the offensive side of the football this offseason. The Vikings acquired Mike Wallace and a 7th round pick from the Dolphins in exchange for a fifth round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft. Although Walace was not able to match the production in Miami that he did in Pittsburgh, Wallace is still a legitimate deep threat and should benefit from the downfield passing game Vikings' offensive coordinator Norv Turner likes to employ.
According to Fantasy Football Calculator's average draft position chart, Bridgewater is currently being drafted in the middle of round 10. At this position Bridgewater is being drafted after players like Colin Kaepernick and Ryan Tannehill. Not to say Kaepernick or Tannehill cannot be successful fantasy options, but they do not possess the natural passing abilities, or offensive weapons Bridgewater does.
Sell: Peyton Manning QB/Denver Broncos
Now before anyone rips my head off for telling you to SELL Peyton Manning I just want to let it be known that I am not telling you not too draft the soon to be first-ballot Hall of Famer. What I am telling you fantasy owners is too proceed with caution with the soon-to-be 40 year-old quarterback for two reasons.
1. Gary Kubiak Offense
Anyone that has followed Gary Kubiak's career knows that there are a couple of things his teams features on offense. The first is a running back that possesses the ability to be successful in a zone-blocking system, and with C.J. Anderson they definitely have that.
Due to the presence of a strong rushing attack, Kubiak has not been one to feature a quarterback that puts up gaudy passing numbers. Just for comparison's sake, while Matt Schaub played under Kubiak in Houston he only surpassed 4,000 passing yards three times, a number that Manning has reached in all but two of his 17-year-career.
The second aspect Kubiak likes to feature is a mobile quarterback that has the ability to make plays outside the pocket on bootlegs and roll-outs. I think it is safe to say that Manning is not going to make many plays on such plays.
Despite posting the second-highest yardage total in his career in 2014, Manning saw his average yards-per-attempt drop below 8.0 for the first time in three seasons. In an offense that will be predicated on short throws that rely on the receivers ability to make plays after the catch Manning could see that average continue to slide.
2. Departure of Julius Thomas
I expect Julius Thomas' departure to Jacksonville to have major impact on the Broncos offense next season. When healthy, Thomas was one of the most productive tight ends in the NFL, posting a 108/1,277/24 line over the last two seasons.
The biggest downside of Thomas' game lies in his ability to stay healthy for an entire season. In the three games that Thomas missed last season Manning and the Broncos offense took a step back in terms of productivity. In the three games that Thomas missed in 2014 Manning averaged only 203 yards-per-game, and two touchdown passes a game, equating to about 14 fantasy points-per-game with Thomas sidelined. While some of the struggles could be attributed to the quad injury Manning suffered, it was clear that he missed his safety blanket in the middle of the field.
Obviously Peyton Manning is going to cost a premium pick in fantasy football drafts, but I urge fantasy owners (Who are not in 2QB leagues), to wait too address arguably the deepest talent pool in fantasy football.
Like I said earlier I am not telling you guys that Manning is a player who will bust, but I do think that he is line for a dip from his normal production. Manning is currently being drafted as the third quarterback of the board in fantasy football behind Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers, coming of the board at the end of round 3. While there are still plenty of weapons on the Broncos offense to think they will be one of the top-10 units in football next season, I think there are better values at the quarterback position in fantasy football.
Photo Courtesty of Jeffrey Beall's Flickr Page
This year, like every other year, the NFL is about to receive an influx young, talented players that will have an immediate impact in the realm of fantasy football. However, if history has taught us anything it is that some of these rookies will shine (Odell Beckham Jr, Jeremy Hill, Mike Evans) and some of them will fade (Eric Ebron, Johnny Manziel, Bishop Sankey). The question is, which rookies are worth investing in, in 2015? One of these rookies worth investing in is the NCAA's leading rusher in 2014... Melvin Gordon. In his Junior season Gordon rushed 343 times for an incredible 2,587 yds and 29 TDs, leaving him with an amazing 7.5 YPC average. While of course these numbers will drop in the NFL, Gordon has proven that he has what it takes to compete at an elite level and will undoubtedly produce in the NFL, and more importantly, produce for your fantasy lineup. Talent aside, the most important factor in deciding when to draft the young RB (or any rookie) is what team he falls to. In this article we will examine not only Gordon's skill set, but also which teams he will see the most success with come 2015.
Gordon and the Boys
Entering the 2015 season, there are a handful of teams that are in need of a strong presence at the RB position, one of the most notable teams is none other than 'America's team,' the Dallas Cowboys. In 2014, the Cowboys offensive line asserted itself as one of (if not the most) dominant O-lines in the NFL. Behind that line, DeMarco Murray was able to rack up 1,845 yards and 13 TDs. Measuring in at 6'0" and 213 lbs at the NFL combine, Demarco Murray's measurables are eerily similar to Gordon's. Add that with a zone-blocking scheme that Gordon has become accustomed to during his time in Wisconsin, we could see an incredible rookie season for the former Badger. In Dallas, Gordon's major competition would be the recently signed Darren McFadden and the former 5th-round pick, Joseph Randle. However, given his injury history, it's hard to believe that the Boys would put all of their eggs in McFadden's basket. It's also hard to believe that Dallas would put their faith in Randle who has amassed only 105 carries in two seasons.
Lightning in a Bottle
Another team in need of a fresh start at running back is the San Diego Chargers. After parting ways with veteran RB Ryan Matthews, the Chargers are an enticing option for any potential running back. Although Branden Oliver showed glimpses of greatness in 2014, by the end of the season he averaged only 3.6 YPC. If Gordon were to fall to the Chargers he would be expected to immediately take the reins as the starting RB. Couple that with the 'change of pace' trait in Danny Woodhead and Gordon would be kept 'fresh' throughout the season and able to do what he does best... run the ball. Combine that with an improved offensive line (added Orlando Franklin, among others, in free agency) and Melvin Gordon could immediately become fantasy relevant in all formats.
Completing the Triple-Crown
A third team that could use a fresh RB is the Indianapolis Colts. Even with the recent acquisition of veteran RB Frank Gore, the Colts are in desperate need of a long term solution to their running back situation. After correcting their fatal mistake by dropping Trent Richardson this off season, the Colts signed the fading star of Gore to a 3-year $12 million contract. So if Gordon were to fall to the Colts come draft day, what can we expect from him next season? The answer is... not much. Like Fred Jackson, Gore just continues to be relevant in the fantasy world. If Gordon were to join the Colts, expect Gore to receive the bull's share of the carries until Gordon proves without a doubt that he is the better option. That being said, it's clear that adding Gordon would solidify their future as a dynasty offense with the three-headed monster of Luck-Hilton-Gordon.
Conclusion: Where to draft Gordon in 2015
Standing at 6'1" 215 lbs, Gordon resembles (and plays like) a bulkier Jamaal Charles. Now of course, nobody can say that Gordon is guaranteed to see the success that Charles has seen in the NFL, but looking at the numbers, it's not impossible. During the NFL combine, Charles ran a ridiculous 4.22 40-yard dash. Although Gordon could only post a 4.52 40-yard dash (still an incredibly fast time), don't think that he doesn't have the 'big play ability' that Jamaal Charles has. In the NFL, the one thing more important than being able to outrun a tackler, is being able to cut and create space between tacklers... a skill that Gordon possesses. In the underrated 20-yard shuttle drill, Gordon posted an incredible 4.07, showing off his prowess as a back capable of changing directions on a dime. Assuming Gordon goes to a team that truly needs a running back, we can expect fantasy results that could rival that of last year's leading rookie rusher, Jeremy Hill. Projected as a first round pick in the NFL draft, expect Gordon to live up to (or even exceed) the hype. Look to target Melvin Gordon in the mid rounds of the draft and expect strong RB2 numbers with possible RB1 potential.
When news of Pierre Thomas' release from the New Orleans Saints broke earlier this month, Mark Ingram's stock skyrocketed. Prospective fantasy owners were beaming at the idea that Ingram may finally become the workhorse back that we've all wanted him to be. However, all of that changed in the past week when the Saints signed veteran running back C.J. Spiller to a hefty 4-year, $18 million contract. While the Saints are clearly going to benefit from signing Spiller, fantasy owners are at a loss and it's tough to get a good read on the situation. Will Spiller be relegated to "change of pace" duties, or are we going to see another true timeshare in New Orleans? In this article we will break down the strengths and weaknesses of both players and try to make sense of this headache of a backfield.
Numbers Don't Lie...
Although the Saints most likely plan on using these two great running backs in tandem, the simple truth is that both of them perform better when the spotlight is solely on them. Last year when Mark Ingram was finally given the reins, he posted a modest, yet respectable 4.3 yards per carry average. Though not eye-popping, his 9 TD's in 13 games shows that he has what it takes to produce as a starting fantasy RB. Likewise, during C.J. Spiller's breakout 2012 campaign, he averaged an incredible 6.0 yards per carry along with 8 total TD's. Although his numbers have been less than stellar since 2012, Spiller has undoubtedly proven that he has what it takes to be a viable starting fantasy RB. Additionally, both of these young veterans have been cursed by playing behind fan-loved veterans in Pierre Thomas and Fred Jackson. Now that both are free of that burden, the numbers will decide who gets the spotlight next year.
Rushing vs. Receiving
When looking at the numbers, both Ingram and Spiller have proven to be quality running backs, each averaging 4.2 and 5.0 yards per carry throughout their careers, respectively. However, in today's NFL an RB must be multi-dimensional. The days of 25+ carries per game are over. Today, it's about making the most of what little opportunities you have, and more importantly, being a threat in the passing game. This fact becomes even more important when talking about the Saints offense, as they attempted to pass on 61.8% of all offensive plays in 2014. So what does this mean for Spiller and Ingram? The simple answer here is that Spiller dominates Ingram in the passing game. In five seasons Spiller accumulated 158 receptions for 1,195 yards and 6 TD's. Likewise, in four seasons Ingram was only able to accumulate 53 receptions for 288 yards and 0 TD's. Although Ingram was playing with Pierre Thomas, a receiving back specialist, it is clear that Spiller will be the receiving back in New Orleans' offense, further boosting his stock in PPR formats.
Outlook for 2015
So far we've come to two simple conclusions. First, both Spiller and Ingram are capable of handling starting RB responsibilities and thrive in a workhorse back setting. Second, C.J. Spiller has proven to be the superior pass catching RB, a trait necessary to thrive in the Saints offense. Unfortunately these two facts lead to the likely conclusion that Ingram will handle 1st and 2nd down duties, while Spiller will come in on 3rd down and other passing situations. Unfortunately this means the worst for fantasy owners as neither Spiller nor Ingram will reach their true fantasy potential in 2015. However, there is a bright side. As both running backs have proven to be quality starters, and both have a seemingly unfortunate injury history, this combination should be looked at as one of the most valuable handcuffs going into 2015. If either Spiller or Ingram go down at some point in the season, expect the other to thrive as the sole rusher in the Saints backfield. Additionally, because Spiller is the more proven back, him taking over starting RB duties is not outside the realm of possibility. At the end of the day, against most mocks to date, I would take Spiller before Ingram come draft day (especially in PPR formats). Either way, if you decide to take either of these RBs in 2015, you had better make sure to grab the other while you can.
Throughout the 2014 season, one of the biggest stories was the immediate success of the rookie wide receiver class. Whether it was Odell Beckham’s “catch seen around the world,” or Mike Evans consistent production week in and week out, the fantasy world was buzzing over the unprecedented success of the rookie class. And it wasn’t just Beckham or Evans making headlines. In fact, for the first time ever, eight rookie wide receivers finished within the top 50 WRs on the season (almost 20%!). But can we expect this production again?
It is well known that the dreaded ‘sophomore slump’ has claimed many an NFL rising star (Michael Clayton, Mike Williams, and Zac Stacy to name a few). So what does this mean for the best WR class to date? Can we expect eye-popping numbers again, or are we doomed to fantasy peril by investing in these young stars? In this article we will examine the top rookie WRs from last season and predict whether they will rise or fall in their sophomore season.
1) Odell Beckham Jr. (5th WR Overall in Standard Scoring)
The man, the myth, the legend. The 2014 offensive rookie of the year had the greatest start to his career than any other wide receiver in history. Period. In only twelve games he caught 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 TDs. Wow! But what can we expect from the breakout rookie in 2015? It should come as no surprise that Beckham’s production was increased after the season ending injury suffered by wide out Victor Cruz. With Victor Cruz coming back next season we shouldn’t be surprised if Beckham’s targets drop a bit. However, his production may not take too much of a hit (if any at all). With Cruz back on the field defenses will have one more playmaker to keep their eyes on. And with the emergence of Rueben Randle towards the end of the season (further catching the attention of opposing defenses), OBJ will have plenty of space to work with. Additionally, with Eli Manning growing more and more accustomed to Ben McAdoo’s new offense, we should have a top 5 wide out on our hands.
Projected WR Rank: 4th Overall
2) Mike Evans (10th WR Overall in Standard Scoring)
Entering the offseason, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have many holes to fill, the most important of these being at the QB position. With the #1 pick in the 2015 draft, the Bucs are expected to take one of the top two QBs of the draft in Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. Rookie QBs are always a big question mark going into a season, but if Mike Evans was able to produce top 10 numbers with Josh McCown and Mike Glennon under center, we shouldn’t expect less with either of the two rookie QBs. As a true deep threat, Mike Evans should pair nicely with the strong arm of Jameis Winston, giving us a possible WR1 next season.
Projected WR Rank: 12th Overall
3) Kelvin Benjamin (17th WR Overall in Standard Scoring)
In his rookie season, Kelvin Benjamin utilized his size, becoming one of the greatest red zone threats in the NFL. Unfortunately for Benjamin, he’s the only receiving threat on the field, and with a less than mediocre run game, defenses need only focus on Benjamin. Additionally, the Panthers must upgrade their offensive line in order to give Benjamin time to create space and allow Cam Newton to find the open man. With the recent release of veteran RB DeAngelo Williams, the Panthers need to add some playmakers to their roster if Benjamin has any chance of repeating his solid WR2 numbers in 2015.
Projected WR Rank: 18th Overall
4) Jordan Matthews (24th WR Overall in Standard Scoring)
As the 7th WR taken in the 2014 draft, Jordan Matthews exceeded expectations by finishing as the 4th best rookie wide out and the 24th overall wide out. The simple fact about Jordan
Matthews is that Chip Kelly really likes him. In fact, he had to trade up in the draft (10th pick of the 2nd round) just to get him. With the approval of Chip Kelly, Matthews saw plenty of playing time right off the bat. However, his production fell in the middle of the season (failed to gain more than 50 receiving yards in a game between weeks 4-10). This was not Matthews fault. The fact of the matter is that the Eagles need to address their quarterback situation, and if we know anything about Chip Kelly, he’s not a afraid to make a monumental deal that would give Matthews the help that he needs.
Projected WR Rank: 22nd Overall
5) Sammy Watkins (25th WR Overall in Standard Scoring)
At the beginning of the season, it appeared as though Sammy Watkins deserved to be the first receiver taken in the 2014 draft. However, as the season progressed Watkins’ numbers were devastated by poor QB play in Buffalo. Unless the Bills can trade up in the draft and grab Winston or Mariota (probably not going to happen), it is unlikely that the Bills QB situation will improve in 2015. A natural talent, Watkins is plagued by a poor offense and poor system. Additionally, Watkins doesn’t have the speed (4.43-40) of fellow rookie Brandin Cooks (4.33-40), or the size (6’1” 205 lbs) of fellow rookie Kelvin Benjamin (6’5” 243 lbs), or the hands of fellow rookie Odell Beckham Jr. Though it is undeniable that Watkins is a natural talent, all of these factors lead us to believe that we may see a true sophomore slump from Watkins next season.
Projected WR Rank: 28th Overall
Though we’ve only covered the top five rookie wide outs from last season, the rest of the rookie class deserves recognition, and in fact some may even make a jump ahead of the 5 WRs listed above. Listed below are the projected ranks of the remaining top 13 rookie wide receivers in order of their 2014 rank:
7) Martavis Bryant* – Projected WR Rank: 32nd Overall
8) Jarvis Landry* – Projected WR Rank 35th Overall
9) Brandin Cooks* – Projected WR Rank: 26th Overall
10 Taylor Gabriel – Projected WR Rank: 70th Overall
11 Allen Robinson – Projected WR Rank: 58th Overall
12 Donte Moncrief* – Projected WR Rank: 30th Overall
13 Davante Adams* – Projected WR Rank: 42nd Overall
Potential Sleepers = *