In 2015, you had running back rookie class that was considered among the best in recent memory. It included the likes of Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Ameer Abdullah, Tevin Coleman, David Johnson, and Duke Johnson. Several of those running backs turned in memorable rookie seasons, with Gurley finishing as a top 5 fantasy back after placing third overall in rushing yards (1,106) behind Doug Martin and Adrian Peterson. David Johnson wasn't far behind after a strong second half of the year landed him seventh overall among fantasy running backs and catapulted him to RB1 status seemingly overnight.
Even so, there was another rookie running back who turned in an equally impressive fantasy season without overly gaudy stats, and that back was Jacksonville Jaguars T.J. Yeldon. Drafted late in the first round, Yeldon compiled over 1,000 yards combined rushing and receiving and finished with 120 fantasy points to finish 28th overall among RBs in standard scoring leagues. While his yardage numbers were there, his lack of touchdowns (just 3 combined rushing and receiving) were the main culprit in draining his potential value. Injuries also caused Yeldon to miss four games in 2015.
So to combat Yeldon's goal-line woes, the Jags brought in Chris Ivory from the New York Jets. Ivory turned in best season of his career by far in 2015, rushing for over 1,000 yards for the first time and scoring 7 times. The Jags signed Ivory to a five-year, $32 million contract with $10 million guaranteed, which makes him the seventh highest-paid RB in the NFL. The only problem is Ivory did all this as the Jets clear No. 1 running back, with only Bilal Powell seeing 70 rush attempts compared to Ivory's 247. There's no way Yeldon sees just 70 rush attempts in 2016 barring injury.
If you want Yeldon on your fantasy team this season, you're going to have to deal with Ivory stealing touches in some form given the amount Jacksonville invested in him. But despite two potential starting running backs on their roster that the franchise invested a lot of money/draft capital in, there's reason to believe Yeldon will be the more trustworthy back when it comes to consistency.
When it comes to drafting a potential RB2, you want someone who sees at least 10-12 carries a game and has a decent shot at scoring a touchdown any week of the season. Yeldon definitely fits that bill. First, he saw 182 rushes in 12 games which was good for 15 carries per game. He also saw 28 carries inside the red zone in 2015, leading all Jacksonville rushers. Despite all his chances around the goal line though, Yeldon only managed to cram the ball into the end zone two times. Historically, touchdown rate can vary greatly from year to year among running backs, so thinking Yeldon will be as ineffective as he was last season around the goal line might lead to disappointment.
If you're worried about one of the running backs getting hurt, you're not taking any more of less of a chance drafting either one. Ivory has an extensive injury season dating back to his rookie season and he also missed 10 games in 2012 after suffering a fracture in his foot.
Yeldon hasn't been a model of health either dating back to his college days at Alabama. He was consistently bothered by hamstring and ankle injuries in college that kept him from playing at 100 percent. He also missed a game midway through the 2015 NFL season with a pulled groin and missed the last three games of the year with a sprained MCL. It's safe to say you're taking a chance no matter which of these two backs you draft this season.
Can Ivory be just as effective as a receiver?
While not as elusive in the open field as Yeldon, Ivory did post a respectable 30 catches last season, which were a career-high for him. He also bested Yeldon in YAC per catch, gaining 9.5 yards to Yeldon's 8.1. At just 27 years old, Ivory is still in the prime of his career and shouldn't be discounted because Yeldon is only 22 years old.
Who's the better value?
Reports out of camp have Ivory as the back more likely to assume the starting role in Jacksonville, but that could be a blessing in disguise for Yeldon. Coaches can change their offensive philosophy at the drop of a hat if a running back is getting repeatedly stone-walled at the line of scrimmage. We saw Ivory struggle with 26 yards on 23 carries in a game last season. You have to figure Yeldon will likely see a healthy dose of carries if Ivory struggles and vice versa.
As far as their current ADP goes, Ivory is going at RB29 while Yeldon is RB36 so you might be able to get Yeldon one or even two rounds later. Given Ivory's injury history, Yeldon is the better value as of right now. He'll be able to choose his spots more and be a more efficient running back while still seeing valuable snaps and assume a crucial receiving role out of the backfield. You could argue Ivory is more valuable because he'll get the goal line work but you have to wonder if Yeldon is more effective throughout the game, he'll be the one to punch the ball into the end zone. As of now, take Yeldon in the later rounds as an RB2/flex guy and draft a running back who's a bit more upside in the earlier rounds before Ivory.
Editor's note: This is a contributed piece from the writing staff at FFLockerroom.com.
Anticipating targets for wide receivers and running backs is a very difficult thing to do. But, we can use clues (I.E. patterns from the last few seasons, defensive improvements or declines, the addition of new offensive weapons, coaching changes that have historically either favored or avoided the pass and many others) to put together a mildly educated guess about the volume that a player may see.
Below are a handful of players that could see a nice uptick in targets heading into the 2016 fantasy football season.
T.Y. Hilton, wide receiver, Indianapolis Colts (2015 - 134 Targets - 8.4 TPG)
If you knew nothing else other than he was getting Andrew Luck back for a full season that may almost be enough to but into a sizable increase in targets for the Colts deep threat. Combine that with an improved offensive line and the departure of both Andre Johnson and Coby Fleener and you are looking at a player who could approach the 160 target mark (right in line with both Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.). Even with the potential emergence of Donte Moncrief and Philip Dorsett, Hilton is a player that is poised to take that next step and really solidify himself as a target monster among the elite fantasy football WR's.
Coby Fleener, tight end, New Orleans Saint (2015 - 84 Targets - 5.6 TPG)
This move is actually a double bonus for the lovely-locked Coby Fleener. Not only should we anticipate a sizable spike in targets for him, but we should also understand that targets from Drew Brees in that offense are inherently more valuable than targets from Matt Hasselbeck or Josh Freeman. The Saints said goodbye to longtime red zone specialist Marques Colston this offseason and the rookie, Michael Thomas, will have to get his feet seriously wet before I am going to worry about him eating in to Fleener's workload. Don't believe that Fleener can have a monster year? Look at what that role did for Ben Watson last season, The New Orleans offense is incredibly tight end friendly, and Fleener is now the top dog in that area.
Tyler Lockett, wide receiver, Seattle Seahawks (2015 - 69 Targets - 4.3 TPG)
This one seems like a no-brainer to me. The loss of Marshawn Lynch and the injury to Thomas Rawls have left serious questions about the continued viability of Seattle's dominant running game. And we're not the only ones to think that as Seattle invested a premium draft pick on pass-catching specialist C.J. Prosise. The Seattle offense looked as prolific as it ever has under Russell Wilson when the coaches decided to employ a much more pass-centric offensive game plan, and their offseason moves show us that Seattle may have noticed that too. Tyler Locket was absolutely electric down the stretch last season, and it became obvious that the report he's developed with Russell Wilson leaves his arrow as a fantasy option skyrocketing upward. With Doug Baldwin, a great receiver in his own right, likely drawing the attention of the defenses number 1 corner Lockett should continue to feast on inferior defensive back competition and is a strong bet to add 20+ additional targets to his ledger by the time the season ends.
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The 2015 NFL Draft class was considered full of potential WR1 talent. Guys like Amari Cooper, Breshard Perriman, Nelson Agholor, Phillip Dorsett and Devante Parker were all among the top prospects selected in the first round. Aside from Cooper, every receiver on that list was fantasy irrelevant in their respective rookie seasons. Still, there's some reason to believe one of them could emerge as a greatly improved fantasy asset in 2016.
One of the receivers we'll be examining from that list is Indianapolis Colts receiver Phillip Dorsett. Dorsett disappointed from a fantasy standpoint as a rookie and finished with just 18 receptions for 225 yards and one touchdown. Despite his low numbers, it's important to put his performance into context and decide if these are the types of numbers we'll continue to see from Dorsett or if greater things are on the horizon, and there's plenty of reason to believe the latter.
Sidenote: It's always worth noting when a player gets drafted in the first round because it shows the team is invested that players success, at least for a few seasons. Often times, coaching staffs and GMs do everything within their power to help a player succeed, even if it means keeping him on the field when his production doesn't exactly warrant playing time. This certainly helps increase Dorsett's upside in 2016 and makes him a deep sleeper receiver in larger leagues.
Embarrassment of riches
Dorsett's destination in the 2015 NFL Draft didn't exactly lend itself to instant fantasy value. Drafted 29th overall by the Indianapolis Colts, Indy's roster was already loaded with wide receiver talent including T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief slotted as the team's best playmakers and veteran Andre Johnson coming over from free agency, which made the addition of another wide receiver all the more head scratching. While the 'too many mouths to feed' argument isn't always the best defense for a player's poor performance since sometimes a player is just not very good, but Dorsett's poor luck really put him at odds of producing in his first season, at least.
There's reason to believe that will change in 2016. For one, Andre Johnson is no longer in the picture which could lead to more time on the field for Dorsett. Johnson took 711 snaps last season, which ranked third-highest behind Donte Moncrief (837) and T.Y. Hilton (927). With Johnson gone, it leaves the door open for Dorsett to see more time on the field as the team's No. 3 receiver in an offense that could be scoring quite a bit through the air after Luck received a giant contract this past offseason. The Colts also plan to run more three-wide sets under new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
Colts will throw — a lot
Nothing is a better indicator of what a franchise plans to do with its talent than the allocation of its money. The Colts went out and locked up Andrew Luck for six years, $140 million in the offseason and expect them to use his arm as much as possible. There's already talks of scaling back veteran running back Frank Gore's carries and the Colts were already an air-oriented team, as they ranked among the Top 10 in passing percentage (62.36) last season. Luck also threw for 40 touchdowns two seasons ago and with a better quality offensive line and clean bill of health, expect the former No. 1 overall pick to find Dorsett on plenty of deep passes down the field.
What Dorsett brings to the table
Much has been made about Dorsett's straight-line speed, which was among the best of his draft class. Per Mockdraftable.com, not only did Dorsett blaze a 4.33 40-yard dash, he also displayed impressive agility with a 6.70 3-cone time. At 5'10, 179 lbs, he drew some comparisons to Desean Jackson (also 5'10, 175 lbs) and was expected to create separation from defenses with his speed.
While not as explosive as his fellow teammate Moncrief (who you can read about more here), Dorsett brings the ability to score from anywhere on the field with his speed and could be used in some creative ways such as reverses and quick screen passes. If used in the slot, he could be a tough matchup for safeties over the middle of the field as well.
Red zone usage
Dorsett was targeted just once inside the 20 during his rookie season. Due to his limited snap count, it's hard to fault Dorsett for not having a ton of red zone targets in 2015. However, he did see 52 snaps in Week 17 which were far and away his most. Johnson saw 11 red zone targets in 2015. While Johnson's targets aren't necessarily an indication of Dorsett's projected usage in 2016, it's worth considering Dorsett will see his red zone targets increase in 2016.
While it's unreasonable to expect a 1,000-yard season from Dorsett given his position on the depth chart behind Hilton and Moncrief, there's plenty of reason to believe his increased role will make him in an interesting boom/bust flex play in quality matchups. It wouldn't surprise me to see him approach 700 receiving yards and anywhere between 5-8 touchdowns in 2016, making him a nice bench player to plug and play if needed.
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Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson has long been placed into the boom/bust category when it comes to fantasy fantasy football, but that is a misleading title. Some get hung up on his lack of high reception totals, others worry about his lack of double digit touchdown seasons or his failure to produce is postseason games. But despite some minor flaws in his overall production, he's actually been one of the more effective and consistent options for fantasy owners in recent memory.
Through his first eight seasons, Jackson recorded at least 900 receiving yards six times and eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark four times. In just his second year (2009) he finished as a top 4 fantasy wideout. He ranked in the top 15 in 2010, the top 30 in 2011, was top 10 in 2013 and landed in the top 16 in 2014. You'd be hard pressed to find too many other receivers that good or that long of a period.
The 5'10 speed demon has made a living stretching defenses down the field, with an impressive 17.7 yards per catch for his career. This is why looking at Jackson's current 2016 ADP (average draft position) at WR34 is kind of silly when you look at how productive he's been throughout his career. He should be getting drafted higher but he simply isn't.
To put his ADP into context, Jackson is getting drafted after players like Eric Decker (WR25), Jordan Matthews (WR29) and Devante Parker (WR32). Recency bias certainly plays a role in Jackson's undervalued ADP since he's coming off his worst season as a pro after finishing with 528 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 2015. Injuries played a role, as Jackson was bothered by hamstring issues that sidelined him for six games.
But you can't say any of those three receivers mentioned above have strung together the same number of successful fantasy seasons as Jackson has. The closest of the group was Eric Decker, who finished as the No. 7 overall fantasy receiver in 2012 and ranked No. 9 in 2013. Even so, Decker benefited from an exceptional situation with Peyton Manning obliterating passing records under center during those two seasons.
But situation isn't always going to play into your favor in fantasy football, so you want a guy who's effective regardless of the quarterback throwing to him and Jackson is that guy. Sure, he's had a few less-than-eye-popping seasons, but all you need to do is take a look at his overall body of work and you'll realize he's actually never really had a down year when he's on the field.
If you look back at when Jackson's situation might've impacted his numbers negatively, he still produced quality numbers. For example, he failed to generate as much success playing with Michael Vick in 2011 and 2012 after it became clear Vick's mechanics were flawed and he stood little chance of becoming a consistently effective pocket passer. Still, Jackson finished the 2011 season with 961 receiving yards and also managed 700 receiving yards in 2012 despite playing in four less games.
Jackson saw his best season in 2013 when he played the majority of snaps with Nick Foles, a quarterback who could throw the ball deep and take advantage of Jackson's speed. A year later in 2014, Jackson signed with Washington and produced another 1,000-yard season playing with a below-average tandem of post-ACL-injury Robert Griffin III and a still-in-development Kirk Cousins.
So assume Jackson enters 2016 healthy which he currently is, this is a great season to snatch him up in later rounds. He's now a part of one of the best receiving cores in the NFC as Washington now has a matchup nightmare in Jordan Reed, a jump ball receiver in Josh Doctson and two quality possession receivers in Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder. Quarterback Kirk Cousins gained a slew of confidence after leading Washington to the playoffs and winning the NFC East. Jay Gruden's offense has also lead to increased passing touchdowns for quarterbacks, just look at Andy Dalton's 2013 season when the Red Rifle threw 33 touchdowns.
Draft Jackson as a solid WR2/3 this season and don't look back.