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,

Michael Stepney

FORTUNE FAVORS THE BOLD

Photo Links:

http://footballscoop.com/news/snakes-chasing-stanfords-christian-mccaffrey/

http://www.scout.com/college/football/story/1699567-2016-preseason-heisman-watch-list

http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/no-combine-or-pro-day-for-western-michigans-corey-davis-after-ankle-surgery/

http://www.ohio.com/sports/college-football/college-football-clemson-wide-receivers-mike-williams-deon-cain-will-play-against-alabama-1.738077

http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/sports/college/story/2015/sep/19/fournette-powers-no-13-lsu-past-no-18-auburn-45-21/326090/

Published in Fantasy Coverage

In 2015, the Packers were missing something in their offense. The glaringly obvious fact was that Aaron Rodgers no longer had Jordy Nelson due to a knee injury. In addition, the Packers were missing a tight end that could run down the field. Richard Rodgers was not fast enough to expose holes in the defense. Receivers were unable to get open, resulting in short drives. They needed someone faster who could run routes.  

The Rams cut tight end Jared Cook before their relocation to Los Angeles. The Green Bay organization had been in consideration to trade for Cook, but now that he was a free agent, they set out to sign him.

Cook inked a one-year, 3.6-million-dollar deal, which means the organization was committed, since they usually refrain from signing big name free agents. Green Bay tends to use the draft as a means to build their team. Richard Rodgers did a great job stepping up in 2015. Who could forget that instant-classic catch that was dubbed, “The Miracle in Motown”?  

The Packers still needed some depth though. Nelson was expected to lose some speed after his return, so it was necessary that they upgraded their speed elsewhere. The tight end position needed the most speed improvement. Richard Rodgers just was not quick enough to be the full time tight end. Other teams such as the Patriots have made a living by having two good tight ends.

The offense had an extra setback when Eddie Lacy got hurt. They found a running back in Ty Montgomery, but it wasn’t until week 15 that a running back scored a TD for them. The Packers went from passing 56.79 % of the time in 2015, to 62.37 % in 2016. This helped Cook see an increase in targets. This also helped him establish a connection with Aaron Rodgers. The offense will be more balanced next year, but there should be no concern about Cook’s targets.

That increase moved them from 18th to 5th in the league for passing attempts. Due to Nelson and Adams playing well, the ball was distributed evenly. Although Cook isn’t getting points for other receivers making plays, it makes the defense open up for bigger plays to him.

Cook started the first 2 weeks of the season, and saw 79 snaps in which his production was limited. Being new to the offense, and with Eddie Lacy getting hype for his weight loss in the offseason, Cook spent the beginning of the season blocking, or watching his targets go to Jordy Nelson. Jared saw a mere 11 targets through the first four weeks. Week 3 was short lived for Cook, as he suffered a high ankle sprain and he wouldn’t be back back until week 11

Once he was back, he started to find a groove. He caught 6 passes out of 11 targets in his first week back for 105 yards and a TD. This would turn out to be his only TD of the regular season, but the work he did on 3rd downs allowed many of the drives to stay alive, which if he continues to do this, will help raise his ceiling in 2017.

Over the regular season, in which he only played 10 weeks, Cook caught 12 of 16 passes for 200 yards while facing 3rd down. This means that 53% of his yards came on 3rd down. Due to his production, the Packers were 2nd in 3rd down offense, making him valuable to Rodgers and fantasy owners.

For a big tight end, he should have had way more than one TD during the regular season. His total yards were also rather low for his career. He only had 377 yards in 10 games. Other than the injury he sustained this season, the only reason these numbers aren’t better is that Aaron Rodgers has a lot of other targets.

However, he had the 3rd best average yards per catch of his career. His career highs being 15.5 (2011), 13.2 (2013), 12.6 (2016). Cook was tied for 7th among all tight ends in YAC. As stated above, the receivers around Cook helped to expose defenses so that he could exploit them. The Packers are going to have to decide how much money Cook is worth.

Cook will be 30 next season, but he is still quick, and he can still make spectacular catches. I would be careful about drafting Cook too high due to his injury history, however he will be one of the best tight end options of 2017 if he can stay healthy. Assuming he comes back to Green Bay, Cook should have a little more fantasy value next year, due to gaining Rodgers’ confidence.

He has a knack for working back to the quarterback, which is important since Aaron is so good at extending plays with his feet. This ability adds another dimension to his game, giving him a value many others don’t have.


Cook will have a steady season next year by being more of a touchdown threat. In his 3 playoff games this year, he had 229 yards to go along with 2 TD’s. These numbers seem to be a more accurate depiction of what he will do next year, because he was settled in and consistent. Cook should be a lower TE1. It is tough to say if Gronk will be healthy, but there are guys like Kelce, Eifert, Olsen, and Reed who have proven to be successful. It depends on the league as to where Cook falls. I would keep an eye on the draft board and pick him up after those other names begin to be picked. The Packers boasted a 10-3 record in games that Jared played in, and his value will transfer into fantasy points if he stays with the Packers in 2017.

 

Published in Waiver Wire
Monday, 04 May 2015 00:00

Draft Grades: NFC North

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

 

Chicago Bears

Players Drafted

1.     (7) Kevin White WR/West Virginia

2.     (39) Eddie Goldman DT/FSU

3.     (71) Hroniss Grassu OG/Oregon

4.     (106) Jeremy Langford RB/Michigan State

5.     (142) Adrian Amos S/Penn State

6.     (183) Tayo Fabuluje OT/TCU

 

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

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

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

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

Grade: B-

 

Green Bay Packers

Players Drafted

1.     (30) Damarious Randall S/Arizona State

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

3.     (94) TY Montgomery OW/Stanford

4.     (129) Jake Ryan LB/Michigan

5.     (147) Brett Hundley QB/UCLA

6.     (206) Aaron Ripkowski FB/Oklahoma

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

6.   (213) Kennard Backman TE/UAB

 

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

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

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

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

Grade: C+

 

 

Detroit Lions

Players Drafted

1.     (28) Laken Tomlinson OG/Duke

2.     (54) Ameer Abdullah RB/Nebraska

3.     (80) Alex Carter CB/Stanford

4.     (113) Gabe Wright DT/Auburn

5.     (168) Michael Burton FB/Rutgers

6.     (200) Quandre Diggs CB/Texas

7.     (240) Corey Robinson OT/South Carolina

 

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

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

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

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

Grade: B-

 

Minnesota Vikings

Players Drafted

1.     (11) Trae Waynes CB/Michigan State

2.     (45) Eric Kendricks ILB/UCLA

3.     (88) Danielle Hunter DE/LSU

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

5.     (143) Mycole Pruitt TE/Southern Illinois

5.   (146) Stefon Diggs WR/Maryland

6.     (185) Tyrus Thompson OT/Oklahoma

6.   (193) B.J. Dubose DE/Louisville

7.   (228) Austin Shepard OT/Alabama

7.  (232) Edmond Robinson OLB/Newberry

 

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B+

 

 

 

Photo Courtesy of Neon Tommy Flickr Page

Published in Fantasy Coverage

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Today's podcast on running backs is a continuation of our Draft series pods. You can find Part I here. On part II, we discuss the top running backs in the 2015 NFL Draft class including Jay Ajayi, Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon. And that list was in no particular order.

Jay Ajayi

Enough RB's come with enough, enough stylee. But when Ajayi busts a run we all know it's wicked and wiley. That's a lyric from the band sublime off 40 oz to freedom on a song called DJ's. Great song, and when I see Ajayi run he in fact does run wicked and wiley. He's my favorite running back in this draft Josh. You can check out an earlier article i wrote about Ajayi back in March here.

The one thing you immediately notice when you see Ajayi run is his sense of purpose. He runs with a supercharged burst of energy and he also catches the ball well out of the backfield. There have been ongoing concerns with a knee injury which has been discussed in greater detail on many other blogs. But let's just assume for a second that it's not a big deal which all reports are currently indicating it isn't.

Ajayi has incredible feet. He was a former soccer player and he loves to initiate contact. He might be the most aggressive runner in this draft. You'd be hard-pressed to find another runner with more heart than Ajayi. That being said, that same heart can also be a weakness. He sometimes stretches plays out for too long when he should just take a 3-yard gain. He's also had fumbling issues that will have to be taken care of if he expects to stay out of coaches' doghouses. But Ajayi has great size at 6'0 221lbs. He's your prototypical NFL running back. If the knee is not an issue, I really think he's a top 3 running back of this class and I would put him just behind Todd Gurley.

Todd Gurley

In a league where you constantly hear reports that running backs are no longer valued, in walks a potential Top 10 pick at the position. It goes to show you that the draft is never about position aside from kickers and punters, it's all about value at a certain position. Sure, a running back likely will never go No. 1 overall, but any RB going in the Top 10 really says something about the potential Gurley has.

Josh you've delved into Gurley a bit more than I have. I know you mentioned his off field issues with autographs but that can't possibly be a huge deal in the NFL can it? I mean, he's going to get showered with love for signing autographs and instead of shunned for it because of the out-of-touch NCAA rules.

Below you'll see a highlight tape of Gurley. The biggest thing I've noticed about Gurley is his deadly combination of elusiveness and explosiveness through contact. Unlike Ajayi, who twists and turns and runs a little bit out of control at times, Gurley doesn't waste any motion when he runs. He's a slippery as they come in terms of shedding tackles, and he does it without making it look like he just poured out half a glass of his energy. There's also a smoothness to the way he's able to simply change direction slightly when he reaches the second level and run past the safety en route to the end zone. People have been calling out for everybody to slow their roll when it comes to comparing Gurley to the potential great runners and while I see their point, because he's not quite as explosive as say an Adrian Peterson. But there are runs where he looks a lot like Peterson. Peterson who take a hit and keep his legs churning then two or three more guys would jump on him and he'd be able to still create forward motion despite all those guys trying to push him into the opposite direction. Gurley shows that at times. You have to get really excited at the prospect of having this guy on your team.

 

 View cityofglendale's Flickr page here.

 

Published in Podcasts

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With the NFL Draft just four days away, the Helpers start their first of four NFL Draft podcasts talking about quarterbacks including Jameis Winston, Brett Hundley, Marcus Mariota and Chris Bonner. They also go over some daily fantasy news and talk discuss the implications of the latest transgressions.

Jameis Winston

The Helpers first start discussing Jameis Winston, the quarterback for Florida State who's likely going to be taken first overall in the 2015 NFL Draft. A former Heisman winner and National Champion, Winston fits the mold of a pocket passer who can make quick decisions, throw receivers open even if they're not, possesses above-average arm strength to make big plays down the field and also possesses the kind of athleticism that will allow him to create plays when the blocking breaks down.

Of course, with any top pick, there's going to be nitpicking into every facet of his game both on and off the field. Most people already know about Winston's issues off the field. If you don't, a quick google search should solve that problem for you.

While Winston possesses a great deal of potential as a franchise quarterback, the main concern for the Helpers is the team he goes to. The Buccaneers are an organization that's never had a true franchise quarterback. Josh Freeman, Mike Glennon and Bruce Gradkowski have all come through Tampa's doors and have all either left or failed to become a prominent starter within the franchise or both. When Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl back in 2002, they trotted out Brad Johnson while relying on a strong run game and one of the best defenses of the decade.

There's no indication Tampa has improved when it comes to developing quarterbacks. Their offense was anemic last season despite some very strong performances from rookie Mike Evans. Evans strung together three straight games of over 100 yards receiving and multiple touchdowns, becoming the first rookie to have multiple 100 yard games and at least one touchdown since Randy Moss. Still, the Buccaneers coaching staff consists of Lovie Smith, a guy who couldn't mold Rex Grossman into a reliable starter. Smith also coached Brian Griese and Kyle Orton, two players largely considered backup caliber throughout the majority of their careers.

We've seen young quarterbacks get thrown into tough situations almost immediately and flounder. Geno Smith was dealt a tough situation with the Jets, where Rex Ryan favored running the ball and playing defense over Sanchez slinging the ball all over the field. Smith has yet to throw for more than 13 touchdowns in a season and has nine more interceptions than touchdowns in his career. Granted, he had a lot worse weapons than Winston would start out with considering Tampa has two prominent receivers in Evans and Vincent Jackson to go along with a receiving threat at tight end in Austin Sefarian Jenkins.

The Buccaneers are bringing in offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who helped the Atlanta Falcons to one of the best passing offenses in the league. Koetter's Falcon teams threw the ball a ton, and there's reason to expect him to dull the offense down a bit throwing-wise to adjust to Winston's proficiency within the offensive system if the Bucs do in fact draft Winston.

Mentally, Winston definitely has a charm about him. He has the charisma, optimism and the gleam in his eyes of a confident player. I know, sounds like I'm in love with him. But it's evident there's a bit of an 'it' factor when he talks. He may not actually go out and be the guy who will be one of the greats of all time, but you certainly believe he can when you hear him talk.

 

Marcus Mariota

One of the most confusing prospects in the draft I can remember when it comes to where he will end up playing. So many rumors running through the mill that we could power a small town with the various teams interested in potentially trading up to get the Oregon prospect and 2014 Heisman winner. The most popular destinations for Mariota include Tennessee, San Diego, Washington and of course, Philadelphia. Eric Stoner's piece on Mariota pointed out some interesting things about Mariota's game and the style of offense he plays in.

One of the big overall messages of the piece was how Mariota's thought process can be likened to a guy at a grocery store with a check list in his hand. Mariota has a set amount of things he can do, and rarely deviates from those things. When the play breaks down, he hangs on to his list of tasks until the bitter end instead of creating something different based on what the defense is giving him. It's not something that would make or break him as a quarterback per se, but it can be a huge detriment if the defense has got Mariota's decision making figured out.

This is why I think Philadelphia has the greatest chance to mold Mariota into a fantasy impact guy immediately. The offense is geared to take advantage of Mariota's strengths as a task-oriented quarterback and his running ability will be a huge asset to it as well. We saw in early 2013 how Michael Vick was used in the offense and while Vick's injuries got the best of him, he did rush for 54, 34, 99, 41, and 79 yards in six games with the Eagles in early 2013. Mariota would likely hover around those rushing numbers if he did in fact sign with Philadelphia, which would make him an instant fantasy QB2. He might be the only rookie that would be a fantasy impact guy in 2015. Sort of like RG3 in 2012.

 

Brett Hundley

My personal favorite quarterback of this class. i got a chance to watch Hundley live when UCLA came to Charlottesville to play UVa in the 2014 season opener last year, and Hundley impressed me with his ability to make tough throws when the defense was about to hit him. UVa had a very formidable defense last year, led by defensive end Eli Harold who anchored the pass rush, Hundley and the Bruins offensive line did not have an easy time dealing with the Cavaliers and nearly lost the game in the waning moments had Hundley not come through.

View Mike McBride's page here.

 

Published in Podcasts

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.

Check out Phil Roeder's Flickr page for more awesome images.

Published in Fantasy Coverage

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The only thing more difficult than trying to predict where top prospects will land in the NFL draft (especially before free agency) is trying to predict how those prospects will impact the world of fantasy football. The simple fact is that there are too many variables to predict not only what teams this year's prospects will end up with, but how they will be utilized on those teams. This article will focus on the draft prospect with the least amount of those variables today: Jameis Winston.

As close to a lock as possible, almost all credible mocks have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers taking Jameis Winston with the #1 pick of the draft. With the release of veteran QB Josh McCown in February, the case for the Bucs taking Winston with the first pick was only strengthened. As the #1 pick, Winston will be expected to have an immediate impact in the Bucs offense. But what does this mean from a fantasy perspective? Can Jameis Winston adjust to the professional level and compete as a viable starting fantasy QB? In order to answer these questions we must take a look at not only Winston, but the Buccs offense as a whole.

Will Winston have the protection needed to succeed?

In 2014, the Bucs replaced four of their five starting linemen from 2013. These drastic changes did little to help the Bucs offensive woes. As a whole, the Buccs didn't fair too poorly in the running game, finishing as the 10th ranked team at run blocking. Unfortunately for Winston, the offensive line also finished as the 26th ranked unit at pass blocking. It's clear that the Bucs need to improve their offensive line if Winston has any shot of achieving fantasy relevance. Even with an offensive anchor in tackle, Demar Dotson, the Bucs will certainly look to add depth to the offensive line through free agency and the draft. One final thing to note about the Bucs offensive line is their discipline. They finished with the most penalties of any offensive line in the NFL which if continued in 2015, will almost assuredly take away some of Winston's big gains through the air.

Will Winston have the weapons needed to succeed?

The simple answer here is YES. Winston will be entering the NFL with a powerful combination of receivers in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. Mike Evans, the #2 rookie WR in 2014, finished 10th overall in standard scoring. With Winston's big arm and love for throwing the ball deep down the field, we may be witnessing the beginning of a QB/WR combo that could end up being one of the best in the NFL. In terms of the rushing game, the Bucs will hope that Doug Martin (after two years of being plagued with injuries) can repeat the success he achieved in 2012 (1454 yds, 4.6 avg). Regardless if he can or can't, the Bucs will look to add depth to their RB core this offseason, whether it is through free agency or the deep RB class in this year's draft. Finally, at the TE position, Winston will hope that sophomore TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins can live up to the hype next year. Taken in the second round, Seferian-Jenkins had high expectations after last year's draft. Unfortunately his season was plagued by injuries and we have yet to see just what this prototype TE is capable of.

Does Jameis Winston have what it takes to compete in the NFL?

When looking at Winston, there’s no doubt that the talent needed to compete at the professional level is there. As a natural pocket passer, Winston has a big arm and loves to throw the ball down the field. Additionally, his size (6’4”, 231 lbs) and his decent mobility allow him to keep plays alive and allow his receivers time to get open. When watching film, it’s clear to see that Winston knows his receivers. He consistently places the ball in a spot where only the receivers have even a chance of catching the ball. Combining that with tight spirals and a strong knowledge of the game, Winston has an excellent chance of succeeding at the professional level. Even with all of these positive attributes, there are a couple of major concerns when considering Winston as a fantasy relevant QB. One of course is his off-field issues. Fortunately, Winston has recently addressed these issues and truly impressed both scouts and coaches during his combine interviews. The other more important concern is his interceptions. During his Heisman winning season, Winston threw for 40 TDs and only 10 INTs. Those numbers drastically dropped his senior year, throwing for only 25 TDs and 18 INTs. His big arm doesn’t help him here as he more than occasionally overthrows his receivers and tries to force the ball into tight coverage. We can only hope that the Bucs coaches can help Winston to develop in the preseason and get those big-armed throws under control.

So what can we expect from Winston in 2015?

Winston has all the tools needed to succeed in 2015. As a Heisman winner, we know that the talent is there. As a top priority (especially with a rookie QB), the Bucs will definitely spend the money to improve their offensive line in the offseason. Additionally, the Bucs have a strong receiving duo in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson who both love to catch 50+ yard touchdowns, perfectly complementing Winston’s big arm. Coupling that with a healthy Doug Martin and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the Bucs could have a very strong offense next year. Comparing him to current NFL QBs, Winston reminds me a lot of Big Ben Roethlisberger. Between his size, his arm, and surprising ability to move in order to extend plays, the Bucs may have just found their franchise quarterback in Jameis Winston.

2015 Projection:

-19th QB Overall Standard Scoring

-3,150 yards

-27 TDs

-15 INTs

View Kathy Vitulano's flickr page here.

Published in Fantasy Coverage

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Player: Tyler Lockett

School: Kansas State University

Position: Wide Receiver

Height: 5’10”

Weight: 182 lbs

Class: Sr.

Position Rank: 5

Over the last few seasons undersized receivers such as the Steelers Antonio Brown and the Colts T.Y. Hilton have been able to establish as premier player makers at the wide receiver position. In the 2015 NFL draft class, Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett is a player that has been overlooked due to his diminutive size, but in my opinion has a chance to come in and play a major role during his rookie season. 

Strengths:

  •       Big Play Threat (14.3 YPC)
  •     Ability to make people miss after catch 
  •       Uses Quickness/Speed to be a mismatch against bigger defensive backs
  •       Very quick feet
  •       Elite Short Area Quickness
  •       Works back to football very well
  •       Versatility to line up at multiple positons within an offense
  •       Surprising ability to play above the ground (35.5” vertical)
  •       Attacks top of stem, explosive out of routes
  •       Special team capability
  •       High Character Individual

Weaknesses:

  •    Can get swallowed up by press-coverage
  •    Double-catches, and occasional drops due to small hands
  •      Lacks prototypical size
  •      Struggles with people around him

Collegiate Career

Originally rated a 3-star recruit by Rivals.com, Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett surpassed all expectations on his way to becoming one of the top receivers in Kansas State history, setting 17 school records, including receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and other records previously held by Lockett’s father.

Year

Conf

G

Rec

Yds

Avg

TD

*2011

Big 12

9

18

246

13.7

3

*2012

Big 12

13

44

687

15.6

4

2013

Big 12

12

81

1262

15.6

11

2014

Big 12

13

106

1515

14.3

11

Career

   

249

3710

14.9

29


In just 9 games, it was evident that Lockett possessed special playmaking ability, averaging an astounding 35.2 yards per return. Lockett also proved to be a threat to score at any time as we was able to return two kicks back for touchdowns.

It was not until the final two seasons of Lockett’s college career that he started to get buzz as a potential NFL prospect. Over the course of his final two seasons in Manhattan Lockett finished over 180 receptions for 2,777 yards and 22 touchdown receptions. The 2,777 yards were the second highest total in college football over the last two years, trailing only Eastern Carolina's Justin Hardy (2,778). 

What impressed me most about the number Lockett was able to put up in his final two seasons was the fact he was able to produce with sub-par quarterbacks throwing him the ball. Neither of Jake Waters, Colin Klein and Daniel Sams possess the necessary skill set to be NFL quarterbacks, but still Lockett was able to produce like a premier wide receiver in college football. 

Fantasy Perspective

There is no doubt in my mind that Lockett possesses the ability to be the same caliber of playmaker at the NFL level that he was in college, but like the majority of wide receivers in football their production is tied to the quarterback production 

In terms of a skill set Lockett possesses the ability to line up at multiple positions within an offense. Equipped with lighting quick feet and aggressive playing style many draftniks feel like Lockett would be best suited in the slot in order to take advantage of his quickness on linebackers and safeties. While I do expect Lockett to make an impact in the slot I feel like Lockett's ability to make an impact down the field is being undervalued.

Over his college career Lockett averaged 14.9 yards-per-reception and showed the ability to separate against the bigger, more physical defensive backs in college football. Due to his big-play ability I expect Lockett to make an impact as a situational deep threat during his rookie season, a role that all teams are looking to fill at this time of year. 

Just because Lockett possesses 4.4 speed and averaged over 14.5 yards-per-reception does not mean that Lockett is a one trick pony at the next level. Lockett plays with an aggressive mindset, and despite less than ideal size, Lockett is not afraid to get the tough yards by going over the middle of the field. 

Going into dynasty drafts Lockett is my number 5 rated wide receiver, a ranking that slots him as a firm round 2 selection in Dynasty drafts. As far as standard leagues go Lockett may struggle to find the end zone on a consistent basis due to his minimal use in the red zone, but I do feel Lockett could reach WR3 value in PPR formats. 

Player Comparison: T.Y. Hilton

The moment I turned on the tape of Lockett I was instantly reminded of Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, and looking closer at their measurables I feel even more comfortable with this projection. I turned on the tape of Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett the guy that instantly came to my mind was Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, and if you look at them strictly from a measuraubale standpoint they are a near spitting image. 

Tyler Lockett/T.Y. Hilton Spider Chart

As you can see by the spider graphs above Hilton and Lockett are nearly identical players from a physical standpoint. Both players stand 5'10", weighing around 183 lbs, raising some concerns that his frame cannot handle the 

The most concerning part of Lockett and Hilton's game is their tendency to drop relatively easy passes. Due to Lockett's smaller than average hands (8 3/8) I believe Lockett will deal with the occasional case of the drops at the next level. The second aspect of Lockett's game that raised some red flags in my evaluation process was his lack of consistency making contested catches. 

Despite the red flags that came up during my evaluation process I am very confident Lockett possesses all the skills necessary to be a starting wide receiver at the NFL level. While Lockett will never have the size and strength to out muscle defenders, Lockett is going to be a terror for LB's and Safeties to cover due to his explosiveness out of his routes, and ability to get free from press man-coverage. 

Draft Projection

In my opinion Tyler Lockett is the most under-appreciated wide receiver prospect in the 2015 NFL Draft. After totaling over 3,700 receving yards in his career, on his way to setting 17 school records, Lockett made himself eligible for the NFL Draft.

Lockett was invited to the Reese’s Senior Bowl and reportedly was one of the most well-rounded receivers in Mobile. Senior Bowl Director Phil Savage was one of the many to rave about Lockett's week in Mobile, as he was quoted by the Kansas City Star saying, "“I think Tyler Lockett has shown exactly what people thought of him during the season,” Savage said. “He can play in the slot, he’s very quick, he’s a return specialist as well. He’s a super-high-intangible person, so that’s going to be attractive to teams.”

Currently Lockett is my number 5 rated wide receiver for the 2014 NFL Draft due to his well-rounded game and explosive playmaking ability.

As far as his best fit at the next level I am going to break down two potential options where I feel Lockett could see playing time during his season.

  • Philadelphia:

After losing DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and LeSean McCoy over the last two offseasons I can officially say that I have no idea what Chip Kelly's vision for this team is. They just traded former quarterback Nick Foles to the Rams in exchange for oft-injured quarterback Sam Bradford, a move that has left many people scratching there heads. While the potential is still there for the Eagles to draft Kelly's former college quarterback Marcus Mariota, the asking price may be too steep for Kelly and the Eagles regime. 

One thing is for certain, the Eagles need to add some young offensive talent to their team this offseason. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews should see a boost in production in his sophomore season, as Matthews goes into the season as the team's no. 1 option in the passing game. Other than Matthews, the only receivers that have any experience on the Eagles roster are Riley Cooper and Josh Huff, two players that combined for 63 receptions last season. 

I think Philadelphia could be the perfect fit for a guy with Lockett's skill-set. Head Coach Chip Kelly is a mastermind at getting his players in space, allowing for players to take advantage of their god-given athletic ability against favorable matchups. Lockett could step in for the Eagles and be a day 1 starter at the position in my opinion, and with his deep speed could be the replacement the team is looking for.

  • Oakland

Who is there to throw the ball to in Oakland? James Jones is no more than wide receiver depth at this point in his career, and with Andre Holmes potentially leaving via restricted free agency the Raiders could be looking to add a wide receiver or two in the draft. 

The Raiders have been said to have interest in the consensus top-3 wide receivers; DeVante Parker, Kevin White, and Amari Cooper. However, if the Raiders want to return to the glory days of yesteryear I would advise them too add talent on the defensive side of the football, rather than the splash for a wide receiver.

If the Raiders wait on a wide receiver, and draft say Leonard Williams or Randy Gregory in the first round, Lockett could be a very real possibility in round 2 or 3. Derek Carr needs a legitimate no. 1 receiving option, and while Lockett is not the big possession-type receiver that NFL teams look for, he would instantly become the Raiders most talented pass catcher. 

In 2014, no Raiders receiver other than James Jones totaled more than 70 receptions, a trend in the modern-day NFL that is unacceptable if you are going to be a contending team. With the addition of Lockett the Raiders would get a day 1 starter at the wide receiver position, giving Lockett some very intriguing fantasy potential. 

I gave Lockett second round grade in this draft, and rank him as my number 5 receiver in his draft class. While some people may believe Lockett is going to be destined for the slot due to his smaller than average build, I urge you to not sleep on him because Lockett will prove you wrong. 

Grade: Round 2

Photo Courtesy of Iumontuen Flickr Page

Published in Waiver Wire

One skill we always value when it comes to drafting fantasy potent running backs is the ability to catch the football. Now, you might think a good receiving running back is only valuable in PPR (points per reception leagues) but that is simply not true. While receiving running backs definitely have more value in PPR leagues, they're also highly draftable in redraft leagues.

Of the Top 7 fantasy running backs last year, only one guy didn't have at least three receiving touchdowns. Two out of the top 4 had at least 800 receiving yards while the bottom three of those seven guys had receiving touchdown totals of 4,5, and 4 respectively.

The one guy who failed to register a receiving touchdown happened to be the top fantasy running back in the league, in this case DeMarco Murray. But Murray was an exception to the rule considering he carried the ball over 100 times more than any other running back in the league last year and was also gifted with an outstanding offensive line.

Plus, Murray still compiled a respectable 57 catches for 416 yards, so he was still a potent receiver despite not having a catching touchdown to his name.

Why a good receiving running back is valuable — especially in Dynasty Leagues

One big thing you have to remember is that catching the ball is a skill, not an athletic gift. Skills don't fade, but athletic ability does. We've seen countless running backs keep themselves valuable into their 30s with their ability to catch the ball. Bills running back Fred Jackson is still fantasy relevant and he just turned 34 years old. Jackson caught a career-high 66 passes in 2014 at age 33, totaled 501 receiving yards and caught a touchdown. Eagles running back Darren Sproles caught 40 passes at age 31 last year with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Receiving skills don't go away, and if you're looking to invest in somebody long term for a dynasty league, then these are the skills you should be valuing.

How it helps in other ways

Overall, finding a good receiver for your running back spot can enhance your chances of avoiding dud performances due to the variety of ways in which he can get you points. Anybody can fall victim to what's known as 'gameflow' in fantasy football. An example of gameflow working against you would be something like... if a running back only puts up 30 rushing yards because his team gets down early and they have to pass the ball. On the other hand, a receiver can end up with zero catches if a team scores a lot of points early and just runs the ball to chew up clock late. So, if you have a player that can both catch and run the ball, your chances of falling victim to gameflow decrease drastically.

Plus, with the NFL still being a passing-based league despite many teams eying to replicate the Seattle Seahawks' formula centered around running and defense, it's always good to have a receiving back in general.

Overall, you should be looking for a solid receiving back in your dynasty draft. And if you're looking to find guys who might have the talent to do that, look no further than Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon.

What he did in college

First, let's talk about Yeldon's ability as a rusher since that's always the chief talent that will keep him on the field in the first place. Though Yeldon only ranked 61st among all rushers in 2014, he finished with a respectable 979 yards and more importantly, 11 touchdowns on a solid 5.0 yards per carry. He's not a real physical runner and also runs with his pad level tad high at 6'1. Ball security issues where a huge concern as well, as he fumbled 10 times in 576 carries.

Like most running backs, Yeldon also struggled in pass blocking, opting to throw his shoulders around instead of squaring up to block incoming linebackers and defensive linemen. Those are his biggest weaknesses and what may keep him irrelevant in fantasy despite his catching ability. We'll just assume he works on those flaws and gets better for the sake of argument.

Yeldon, like most Alabama running backs before him, wasn't asked to catch the ball much in Alabama. The Crimson Tide instead relied mostly on Amari Cooper for their receiving needs, as Coop accounted for over 70 percent of the team's total targets, an incredible number when you figure the best wideouts on NFL teams might account for 30-40 percent of total team targets.

Still, even though he didn't catch the ball much, it doesn't mean he doesn't possess the skill. His fellow Crimson Tide teammate, Eddie Lacy, actually wasn't much of a receiver out of college either. Lacy quickly erased any doubt that he could be a valuable pass catcher in the NFL  when he finished with 42 catches (13th most among RBs), 427 yards (6th most among RBs) and 4 touchdowns (tied for 4th among RBs) in 2014, which was only his second NFL season. Of course, Lacy benefited from playing with Aaron Rodgers, who's one of the leagues best quarterbacks.

Since we don't know who will be throwing Yeldon the ball just yet, we can only look at his individual catching ability based on his college tape. Lets take a look at some of his receiving examples out of college to see if he actually can catch.

Example No. 1

In this first clip against Mississippi State from 2014, Alabama quarterback Blake Sims looks down the field at his receivers, who are both covered. He then looks to the far sideline and hits Yeldon, who's running up the sideline, on a wheel route. Yeldon makes the catch cleanly and maintains his balance on the sidelines, getting both feet in bounds. Overall, some good awareness of the sideline there. Also, he catches the ball with his hands and keeps it away from his body, which is a good sign his hands are soft.

 


Example No. 2

This one is probably my favorite examples of Yeldon's catching ability and it's not even a true completion. Sims fakes to Yeldon, who then runs up the sideline and manages to haul in a long pass with a corner draped on him and a safety coming over the top to drill him. Yeldon doesn't complete the catch all the way through, but he still does three things very well. For one, he sheds the defender to create space and get himself open. Two, he has to turn his body around and lean back to adjust to the pass. Lastly, he times the catch perfectly, catching the ball at the peak of his jump. These are the kind of ball awareness skills every good receiver has. Plus at 6'1, Yeldon is a little bigger than most running backs and can use his size on contested balls like that.


Example No. 3

In the last example, you get an idea for what Yeldon can do in the open field. Yeldon makes a simple catch out of the backfield, one nearly every running back can make, and then moves the ball up the field and makes on defender miss before being tackled from behind. He makes the catch at about the opponents 47-yard line before advancing the ball all the way down to the 32. Once he knows he's about to go down, he doesn't fight for extra yardage and instead falls down before a defender can lay a big hit on him.

Final verdict

Overall, Yeldon doesn't look flashy in the open field. He's not super quick and he's also not strong enough to move the pile. Still, a lot can be said about his reliability as a receiver. He will produce in the receiving game when on the field at the NFL level. He just has the right instincts, ball skills and overall reliable hands you'd want out of a quality receiving back.

Regarding how that translates to fantasy football, Yeldon will likely not start in his first year, which makes him undraftable in most redraft leagues unless he's gifted a starting role like Bishop Sankey was with Tennessee last year. But as we all know with running backs, injuries can rear their ugly head at any moment. If Yeldon does get an opportunity, he will be a good flex play because of his catching ability. Expect him to be a good plug and play guy when right opportunity comes about, especially in PPR leagues.

View Army Recruiting's Flickr page here.

 

Published in Waiver Wire
Tuesday, 17 February 2015 00:00

Dynasty Wide Receiver Tier 2.0: Devin Funchess

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Player: Devin Funchess 

School: University of Michigan

Position: Wide Receiver

Height: 6'5"

Weight: 230 lbs

Class: Junior

Position Rank: 5 

After the first tier of wide receivers off the board there are still a lot of talented pass-catcher in the 2015 NFL draft that have the ability to develop into impact wide receivers at the NFL level. Leading off Tier II of our rankings is University of Michigan wide receiver/tight end Devin Funchess. Funchess is perhaps the most versatile wide receiver in this draft having had experience playing multiple positions, as well as showing the ability to line up at multiple places whether it be out wide, in the slot, or in-line as a tight end. 

Funchess is far from a finished prospect but possesses the combination of size, speed, and athletic ability to be lethal down the field in the NFL. I do believe that Funchess could step in and make an impact during his rookie season, but I do feel he has a few holes in his game to fix if he wants to be mentioned in the same conversation as Cooper, White, and DGB. 

Strengths: 

  • Massive Frame
  • Ability to line up multiple positions
  • Physical in open field
  • Able to make plays with contact
  • Hindered by terrible QB play 
  • Massive Catch Radius 
  • Solid run blocker 
  • Able to recognize soft spots in zone-coverage
  • Impressive burst of LOS
  • Immediate Red-Zone Threat

Weaknesses:

  • Does not explode out of breaks
  • Needs to refine route-running ability
  • Inconsistent hands (fights ball)
  • Will need to develop NFL route-tree
  • Will struggle getting off press-coverage
  • Tight end or wide receiver?

Collegiate Career 

The college career of Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess is an interesting. The former 3-star recruit originally signed with the Wolverines as a tight end, and was able to make some impact during his freshman season, totaling 15 catches for 234 yards and 5 touchdowns, good enough to earn him a spot on the freshman All-America team.

As a sophomore Funchess earned a starting position opposite Jeremy Gallon and showed to be one of the premier pass-catchers in the nation, totaling a 49/748/6 line during his sophomore season proving to be a match-up nightmare for linebackers and safeties.  

Despite being labeled on the depth chart as a tight end, Funchess played more of a Jimmy Graham-type role for the Wolverines, lining up in the slot, out wide, and in line as a blocker. This versatility allowed the Wolverines coordinator to scheme up ways to get Funchess matched up against slower linebackers, and smaller defensive backs.

Going into his junior season Funchess made a couple of changes to his game. The first is that he was changing positions from tight end, to now a full-time wide receiver. The second move was changing his jersey number from 87, which he had worn for his first two season, to 1, a number that is synonymous for being worn by great Michigan wide receivers (Edwards, Carter). 

With these changes there was hope that Funchess would finally put his tools together and become the dominant pass catcher that the program has been looking for since Edwards graduated in 2004. Things did not exactly go to plan as the Michigan football program more closely resembled a dumpster fire than a division I football team. 

Funchess finished his junior season with 62 catches for 733 yards, and 4 touchdown receptions. While Funchess did post a career high in receptions during his junior season, he was limited to a lot of quick hitting passes such as stick routes, slants, and curl routes because of the inconsistencies of the Michigan quarterbacks. 

Player Comparison: Braylon Edwards

When I first turned on the Michigan tape I had to make sure that I was watching the right game, because at the naked eye you would not be able to tell a difference between the former Wolverine wide receivers.

Both players possess a massive frame, strong hands, and the speed to stretch defenses vertically. Although Edwards was the more complete receiver coming out of college, I feel that Funchess could be the better professional player. 

Braylon Edwards/Devin Funchess Statistical Comparison

Braylon Edwards

Player

Devin Funchess

252

Receptions

126

3,541

Receiving Yards

1,715

39

Touchdowns

15

14.1

YPC

13.6

 

As you can see by the chart above Edwards was a monster during his four seasons in Ann Arbor, totaling over 1,000 receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns in three of his four seasons. 

During his four years at Michigan, Edwards definitely had the advantage in terms of quarterback play. Chad Henne was a perfect college quarterback for Edwards, as he possessed the big arm and gun-slinger mentality that could take advantage of his elite athletic ability. 

It was a different story for the quarterbacks that Funchess had the misfortune of playing with. The Wolverines offense was held hostage by the the atrocious quarterback play of Devin Gardner far too often. There are plenty of opportunities to make big plays down the field, but instead Gardner panics and tries to make a play with with his legs. 

Even though Funchess was not able to develop the way the Michigan coaching staff had hoped during his first season at wide receiver, there was some good that came from playing with the erratic Devin Gardner. Take the video below for instance, Gardner is throwing a corner route against either Cover-3 or man-coverage. It is a little difficult to differentiate because of the slot CB playing man, while the right side of the defense seems to be playing a deep third responsibility.

With the separation that is created by Funchess on this route this should be an easy pitch and catch for a division I quarterback. However, like a lot of Gardner's throws the ball placement, accuracy, and timing on this throw are all way off, causing Funchess to have to bail his quarterback out once again. 

Braylon Edwards/Devin Funchess Physical Comparison 

Braylon Edwards

Player

Devin Funchess

6’3”

Height

6’5”

220 lbs

Weight

230 lbs

Aside from the physical comparison, there is one more comparison to Edwards that stood out when I was doing my evaluations. Both Edwards and Funchess possess the prototypical size of a vertical receiver at the next level, but have issues catching the ball on a consistent basis. Too many times their were passes thrown his way that Funchess had to double-catch, and even dropped some relatively routine passes. 

The other aspect of Funchess' game that he needs to improve on if he wants to make a major impact at the next level is his route-running ability. While Funchess possesses the athletic ability and lower body flexibility to sink into his breaks rarely does it actually happen. Instead, Funchess relies to heavily on his athletic ability to get away from defenders, or make contested catches. 

Going forward there is no denying that Funchess has all the tools in the world to become a dominating receiver at the next level. However, with the issues surrounding his inconsistent hands and raw route-running ability it may take longer than expected for Funchess to make a major impact. If Funchess can develop the weaker parts of his game, he has the size, speed, and athletic ability to develop into a low-end no. 1 wide receiver for a team, and at worst a great complimentary piece. 

Fantasy Outlook

The first aspect that will determine Funchess’ fantasy value during his rookie season will be which team drafts him, and what position the will ultimately have Funchess play. If a team decides that they would like to develop Funchess as a wide receiver I believe fantasy owners will need to be patient as they wait for consistent fantasy production.

In standard leagues I would not consider Funchess anything more than a late round flier at this point, as he will most likely make his greatest impact towards the red zone his rookie season. Standing at 6'5" and having a vertical around 38", Funchess will be a major asset in jump ball scenarios against slighter-framed defensive backs.

As far as dynasty leagues go, Funchess is currently my number five rated prospect in the upcoming draft. With his size, speed, and ability to make an impact inside the 20's I rank Funchess as a mid-first round pick in dynasty leagues. While Funchess may not step in and make the impact that Cooper, White, or DGB do, there is plenty to like about his fantasy projection in the future. 

Draft Projection 

When projecting where Funchess may land in the draft, the first thing you have to do is look for which teams may have a need at the position. Due to his versatility I am going to leave the possibility that a team could select Funchess as a hybrid tight end, rather than a full-time wide receiver.

Doing a quick overview of the teams that could be targeting a tight end/wide receiver come April:

  • Jacksonville - Blake Bortles struggled during his first full season as the Jaguars starting quarterback. If the Jaguars have any hope that Bortles is the future they need to surround him with talented skill-players. Marcedes Lewis has been serviceable at best during his time in Jacksonville, and Funchess could step in and be the safety net for Bortles immediately. 
  • Oakland - Mychal Rivera was a pleasant surprise last season, but the Raiders offense has limited talented at the wide receiver/tight end position. Funchess could step in and be the primary pass catcher of the Raiders offense, and hopefully give Carr the no. 1 wide receiver he needs going forward.
  • Atlanta - Tony Gonzalez is not walking through the door anytime soon, and with Roddy White getting another year older, the Falcons could stand to add some youth to the tight end position. 
  • Cleveland - When I write about a wide receiver/tight end this offseason more times than not I am going to list the Cleveland Browns as a potential target. With Josh Gordon suspended indefinitely the team needs someone for their quarterback, whomever that will be, to throw the ball too other than Andrew Hawkins. 
  • Miami - Charles Clay could potentially leave this offseason, and with the likely departure of disgruntled wide receiver Mike Wallace, the Dolphins could use some young talent at the wide receiver position. 
  • Houston - The first order of business in Houston is to figure out who will be under center come week 1. As of now I would expect Ryan Mallett to be given the opportunity to win the job 
  •  Arizona - John Carlson would probably be better off retiring this offseason as he has been unable to carve out consistent production during his career. Even if Carlson is around, the Cardinals need someone who can attack defenses up the middle of the field, an area that Funchess specializes in. Just think of a tight end with the athletic ability of Funchess, and the production that he could put up in a Bruce Arians run offense. Scary thoughts.
  • Seattle - I do not get how Russell Wilson can get it done with the options he has at the wide receiver position, but somehow Wilson is able to produce. Paul Richardson is an intriguing young option with big-play potential, but is still raw and will have to get back to full-speed after suffering a torn ACL in the playoffs. Funchess would step in immediately and be the most talented wide receiver/tight end on the Seattle roster
  •  New England - Remember what the Patriots did when they had Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski on the same offense? Well the addition of Funchess to the Patriots would give Brady yet another weapon at his disposal. 
  • Minnesota - The Vikings desperately need a no. 1 wide receiver for their offense, and standing at 6'5", Funchess has the frame that Norv looks for in his "x" receiver 

As you can see there are multiple teams in this year's draft that could be looking to acquire a tight end with the ability to make an impact as a pass catcher. 

Currently I have Funchess as my number four rated wide receiver in the upcoming draft. While he does not have the experience playing the position like the other players in this draft class, Funchess does possess a versatile skill-set that offensive coordinators crave. I currently have Funchess graded as a round 2 talent due to the questions about which position he will play, and the inconsistencies he displayed with his hands. 

If Funchess can go to the combine and post a 40 time within the 4.5 range, and show some impressive side-to-side agility in the 3-cone drill, I would not be surprised to see him slide into the bottom half of round 1.

Grade: Round 2

 Photo Courtesy of MGoBlog's Flickr Page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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