Jaben Marquez

Jaben Marquez

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The Fantasy Football Helpers and Rumford Johnny finish out the ten most intriguing teams as we round out free agency and look forward to the draft. Rummy joins Jaben for the second half of the podcast, be sure to listen to the first half that was posted Tuesday. Huge shout out to Rumford Johnny for joining us, you can follow him on twitter @RumfordJohnny he's a great follow as draft season quickly approaches. 

Rumford Johnny joins the Fantasy Football Helpers to break down 10 of the most intriguing teams after the moves in free agency and we take look ahead at the draft. We lead the show talking about the most active team in free agency the New England Patriots. Not only did the Patriots lead the show but they seemed to be a focal point, as the show rolls along New England seems to be intertwined in every team we speak about, including the Green Bay Packers. Rummy also brings up some great value players for best ball leagues as we fill the fantasy void with MFL10s. This is the first half of my interview with Rummy as he was gracious enough to spend an hour with me, be on the look out for part two coming later this week! If for some reason you aren't following Rummy on twitter, you can find him @RumfordJohnny and he is one of the best follows on all of twitter. 

Friday, 27 January 2017 00:00

Lessons Learned From 2016: Tight Ends

Opportunity is a bigger factor than talent in some cases. 

The 2016 season was a disaster for the tight end position. According to fantasyfootballcalculator.com Rob Gronkowski and Jordan Reed were the no. 1 and 2 TEs taken in drafts. Gronk’s average draft position (ADP) was 2.02 and was taken as high as the 2nd overall pick. Injuries plagued him throughout the year and he finished as TE21 in standard scoring leagues.

Reed was taken as the TE2 this season after being undrafted in 2015 but, as with Gronk, injuries limited his availability and he was just able to squeak in the top 10 TEs for the season. Drafting a tight end early is never a certainty even as we look to the 2015 season where Jimmy Graham was drafted as TE2 with an ADP of 3.08, but finished as TE17.

The Top 3 tight ends for the 2016 season finished as 3 of the 6 TEs to eclipse the 100 target mark. Travis Kelce and Greg Olsen were the only tight ends to go over 1,000 yards for the year, on 85 and 80 receptions respectively. The knock on these players is the lack of touchdown production from a position usually known for scoring.

In fact, 5 of the 6 previous seasons the TE1 has amassed at least 9 touchdowns, while Kelce and Olsen only combined to score 7. Gronkowski returning, Jimmy Graham becoming more involved in the Seattle offense and the random bursts of touchdowns from the Jack Doyles, Cameron Brates, and Hunter Henrys the tight end position is due for positive touchdown regression.

Undrafted Players Making an Impact

In standard scoring leagues, 4 of the top 12 tight ends for 2016 were not drafted. Kyle Rudolph finished the season as TE3 and led all tight ends with 132 targets and finished third in receptions with 83. Rudolph was the perfect example of waiting for a tight end late and also having tremendous opportunity. In 8 of his 15 games played with Sam Bradford at quarterback, Rudolph posted at least one touchdown and only saw fewer than 5 targets 5 times. Rudolph posted a career high in targets, receptions, and yardage.

Cameron Brate (TE6) and Hunter Henry (TE11) both finished with 8 touchdowns which led the position. Brate entered the season battling Austin Sefarian-Jenkins for the starting spot and after ASJ was released Brate was clearly the better option. 2016 was only his third season out of Harvard but he was able to compile 57 receptions on 81 targets. Henry was a rookie entering the season with a Hall of Fame predecessor, in Antonio Gates.

While Gates served his suspension in weeks 2 and 3, Hunter Henry began his breakout posting 9 receptions and 133 receiving yards along with a touchdown. Antonio Gates announced he will be returning for the upcoming 2017 season, meaning Henry will fall in drafts and could be a late round flier or even possibly an early waiver addition to your team.

To top all of the undrafted lists among tight ends however is Jack Doyle finishing as TE12. Dwayne Allen’s ADP was 12.06 so cutting ties with him was not painful, but after Coby Fleener left for New Orleans Allen seemed primed for a Top 12 season only to be out targeted by Doyle by 30 targets. Doyle is a free agent as we head into the off season, so this may be a one year outlier. What it does show however is, due to Allen’s injury history and concern the second tight end in Indianapolis will have value.

Late Round Steals in 2016

Personal experience leads me to suggest on waiting until at least round 9 before drafting a tight end, and for the 2016 season you would have ended up with players such as Zach Ertz, Antonio Gates, or Jimmy Graham. Ertz seems to be an end of the season monster, with back to back years of not scoring a touchdown until at least week 11 and in each of his first

4 seasons his best game has come in the second -half of the year. The average draft position for Ertz has never been higher than TE11, yet he has yet to finish outside of the top 20 for TEs each year. Gates, as mentioned before, has an heir apparent looming over his shoulder. Even with the constant threat of Hunter Henry, Gates still managed to haul in at least 7 touchdowns for the 11th time in his illustrious career. Antonio Gates finished the season tied with Tony Gonzalez with 111 career touchdowns, and has stated he will be returning in 2017 to break the record.

An ADP of 9.07 in 2016 bodes well for players looking to find a starting caliber tight end late in drafts. The player drafted latest of the trio was Jimmy Graham with an ADP of 11.04. Graham entered the season with huge injury questions, but throughout the season he proved he was back to being his normal self. As Seattle moves toward a more pass heavy approach with the questions in their backfield, look for Graham to become the touchdown machine he was in New Orleans.

What to Do Moving Forward

Only twice since 2011 has the tight end drafted first for the position finished as the no. 1 tight end on the year. Every year however there is a player that was either drafted late or not drafted at all who has finished at least in the top 5 for tight ends. It is best for fantasy rosters to stock up on skill position players in the earlier rounds and grab a tight end later in drafts, or even stream the position week to week. 

Entering the 2014 fantasy draft, Montee Ball was being scooped up early by fantasy owners who thought they had found the next big thing.  Those that expected RB1 numbers from Ball were sadly mistaken, as a season of injuries and the emergence of CJ Anderson caused him to finish as the 90th RB overall in standard scoring behind teammates CJ Anderson (11th overall) and Ronnie Hillman (41 overall).  To put how disappointing Ball's season was into perspective, Ball finished with only 27.4 fantasy points on the season in 5 games played.  These beyond disappointing numbers in 2014 killed many owners fantasy seasons, but now the hopefuls are looking to the future... and the future's name is CJ Anderson.  Entering 2015, Anderson is going in current mocks between the late first to second round, eerily similar to Ball's ADP entering 2014.  Could this spell disaster for Anderson next season?  This analyst thinks that the clear answer is a resounding 'no.'  Let's take a look at both backs in order to find proof that Anderson is not doomed to repeat the failures of Montee Ball.

Evidence vs. Speculation

In 2013, Knowshon Moreno finished as the #5 fantasy running back with Ball (next big thing) showing flashes of greatness.  When Moreno left the Broncos after the 2013 season, the fantasy world was abuzz that Ball would be the workhorse back and repeat Moreno's numbers in 2014.  This was pure speculation.  In his entire rookie season, Ball never had more than 15 carries per game and averaged only 7.5.  In other words, Ball was never the bell cow in the Broncos' 2013 offense so to expect him to just take that role in 2014 was nothing but a hopeful prediction.  Additionally, Ball only had a single 100+ yard game (13 carries for 117 yards) and in that game had a single rush for 45 yards.  Remove that rush and Ball had 12 carries for 72 yards, which while still impressive is not RB1 material.  Finally, even though Ball showed some flashes of being a viable fantasy starter in 2015, there was one glaring statistic that should have made people realize he couldn't be the workhorse back in 2014.  In his rookie season, on rushing attempts 11-20 Ball averaged only 3.4 yards per carry.  In other words, when Ball was given more than 10 carries per game, his stats dropped significantly.

After taking a look at the numbers, it seems that there's a bit more evidence supporting Anderson's case.  In the first nine weeks of 2014 Anderson tallied only 17 carries.  In week 10, he began to take the reins and rushed for 90 yards on 13 carries (6.9 yards per carry).  Fully taking over the backfield in week 12, he averaged 23 carries per game (140 carries in 6 weeks) and 4.6 yards per carry (648 yards on 140 carries) for the remainder of the season.  This is the definition of a workhorse back, a role that Montee Ball never actually achieved in 2013.  And remember that glaring statistic of Montee Ball only averaging 3.4 yards per carry after 10 rushes?  It doesn't seem like Anderson has that problem.  On carries 11-20, Anderson averages 4.3 yards per carry, and on carries 21-30, he averages 4.9 yards per carry.  These are the type of numbers required from a workhorse back and should continue in 2015.

Wear and Tear

Montee Ball and CJ Anderson are both only 24 years old, and should have good long careers ahead of them right? While they could both have long careers ahead of them, the level of wear and tear of Ball is MUCH higher than that of Anderson.  Now, I understand that CJ Anderson has 186 career carries in the NFL while Ball has only 175, but this goes beyond the NFL.  In his 4 year college career, Ball rushed 924 times for an impressive 5140 yards (5.6 avg) while in Anderson's short career rushed only 198 times for 1135 yards (5.7 avg).  A lot of people forget that rookies entering the NFL don't have equal levels of wear and tear.  While you can't say that Ball's injury in 2014 was directly caused by his heavy workload in college, it certainly didn't help.  Likewise Anderson, even with his heavy workload in 2014, remained injury free and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.  This could be a testament to his build and the toughness he has.  Measuring in at 5'8" and 224 lbs, Anderson is simply a more durable back compared to the 5'10" 216 lbs Montee Ball.  And even as a shorter and heavier back, Anderson has a bit more top speed than Ball.  In fact, in addition to speed Anderson slights Ball in a few categories.  Let's take a look at their combine results...

* = Top Performer 40 Yard Dash Bench Press Vertical Jump Broad Jump 3 Cone Drill 20 Yard Shuttle
CJ Anderson

4.60 sec

17 reps 32" 119" 7.15 sec 4.12 sec*
Montee Ball 4.66 sec 15 reps 32" 118" 6.88 sec 4.40 sec

Now I know these numbers are extremely close (too close to call really) but with how similar they are it makes you wonder why Ball was drafted in the second round while Anderson went undrafted.

Where to Target CJ Anderson in 2015

After crunching the numbers, it is clear that CJ Anderson has solidified himself as a workhorse-capable back.  He is entering the 2015 season as the Broncos #1 back and with an expected reduced workload from Peyton Manning, Anderson looks like one of the best backs (situationally) for 2015.  Additionally, with Gary Kubiak returning to the Broncos (this time as their head coach) I expect even more emphasis on the running game.  In my opinion, if Kubiak (as offensive coordinator) was able to turn the journeyman, Justin Forsett into a viable fantasy starter, I can only imagine what he can do with a gem like CJ Anderson.  Because Ball's ADP in 2014 was based on speculation and assumed potential, he failed to live up to the hype.  In Anderson's case the hype is real! I expect Anderson to finish in the top 10 for RBs easily and could push the top 5.  Look to scoop up Anderson in the back end of the first round or the very early second round.

 

In 2014 fantasy owners in every league invested heavily in Andre Ellington with the hopes that he would have a breakout sophomore year.  Unfortunately, Ellington experienced what can only be considered a sophomore slump.  His previous 5.5 yard per carry average plummeted in 2014 to 3.3, and he was only able to rack up 8 more rushing yards in 2014 (650) than in his freshman season (642), on 83 more carries.  These numbers are disheartening for fantasy owners, but on the bright side he was struggling with injuries throughout the year that could be considered the primary cause for his decline.  Whatever the reason, fantasy owners are looking ahead and trying to decide whether or not Ellington will be worth an investment in 2015.  In this article, we will look at the factors affecting his value in 2015 and try to figure out just where to draft this boom or bust candidate.

Can Ellington be a lead back in today's NFL?

The NFL today is a completely different animal than it once was.  The days of a a single RB racking up 300+ carries on any given team are over, typically being replaced by RBBC's.  The fact is that the league has evolved into a faster, pass-heavy style of play where individual backs serve different purposes such as pass catching, pass blocking, rushing between the tackles, and edge rushing.  While this fact doesn't only have an effect on Ellington, it hurts him as much and possibly more than other backs because of his size.  Measuring in at 5'9" and only 195 lbs, many believe that Ellington doesn't have the size and durability to be a lead back in today's NFL.  Think Giovani Bernard minus 10 lbs.  Like Bernard, don't be surprised if Arizona looks to add a bruiser at running back to take 1st and 2nd down carries, while spelling Ellington to 3rd down duties.  Now, this isn't to say that Ellington can't be a lead back, but unless he can bulk up in the off season like the Cardinals want, expect another RB to enter Arizona leaving fantasy owners everywhere with another headache.

Can Ellington stay healthy in 2015?

In 2014 Ellington was plagued with a series of injuries that made it seem like he was made of glass.  A week before the season started, Ellington tore a tendon in his left foot and then dealt with a hip flexor issue.  Finally, Ellington's season was ended by a sports related hernia which required surgery that sidelined him for the remainder of 2014.  Because Ellington has proven to be so injury prone, the need for Arizona to add not only a bigger, but also a more durable back is only more dire.  Because of his injuries, Ellington was limited in his carries this season and failed to record a single 100 yard game.  

Where to target Ellington entering 2015

When looking at Ellington's current situation, we really find nothing but question marks.  Can Ellington bulk up in the off season?  Can he stay healthy in 2015?  Will the Cardinals bring in another back to compliment Ellington?  The questions go on and on.  The only certainty entering 2015, is that the Cardinals will have improved run blocking in the form of elite run blocking guard, Mike Iupati.  Unfortunately, even the addition of Iupati isn't enough to sell me on Ellington.  Currently, Ellington is being drafted as an RB2 in most standard mocks due to the Cardinal's lack of depth at the RB position.  However, the question marks surrounding Ellington are too much to ignore, and it's likely that the Cardinals will look to add a big back in either free agency (fingers crossed for Adrian Peterson) or the draft.  Either way, any decent addition to the Cardinals backfield will only further hurt Ellington's value.  I wouldn't reach for Ellington come draft day, but as a true boom or bust candidate I wouldn't mind taking him as my third or fourth RB. Nothing earlier.

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Now, before you all go and gather your pitchforks, hear me out... I know that many fantasy owners have been burned by Eli in the past, and it's impossible to ignore the fact that just two seasons ago, Manning threw for just a mere 18 TDs and a pathetic 27 INTs and finished as the 21st QB overall.  A lot of people like to hate on Manning because of these numbers but if you watch the film, a large chunk of those interceptions were on passes that bounced off of his receivers' hands.  Additionally, Manning was stuck behind an abysmal offensive line and in the system of mediocre offensive coordinator, Kevin Gilbride.  Manning turned those numbers around in 2014, throwing for over 4400 yards, 30 TDs and a respectable 14 INTs, finishing as the #10 QB in standard scoring.  What's even more impressive than his turnaround was his ability to post these numbers in the first year of a completely different offensive system that was orchestrated by ex-Packers QB coach Ben McAdoo. Going into 2015, Manning has more potential than ever to be a top Fantasy QB.  Why, you ask?  Let's take a look.

X's and O's: Gaining familiarity with the McAdoo offense

When Ben McAdoo became the Giants offensive coordinator last year, fans were ecstatic that they were finally free from the Kevin "Shotgun Draw on 3rd and 20" Gilbride system.  Hopes were high that Eli would immediately become a stud.  However, as any quarterback can tell you,  learning a new offensive system always involves a learning curve. Always.  For Manning, it took the entire preseason and the first three weeks of the regular season until he finally began to adjust to the new system, throwing for 300 yards and 4 TDs in Week 4, finishing with 32.1 points as the #1 QB that week.  About half way through the season, Manning looked like he finally had acclimated to McAdoo's offense.  A lot of people wonder why it took him so long. I mean he was just learning a new playbook, right?  Wrong.  From changing his drop back, to his reads and his release, Manning completely changed the way he played the quarterback position.  With an entire season and another off-season of experience under his belt, Eli's knowledge and execution of the Giants' new offensive system will only improve.

Bodyguards: An improved offensive line

When free agency rolled around a couple of weeks ago, many analysts and Giants fans had figured that due to their offensive line troubles, the G-Men would target at least one of the top offensive linemen available in Mike Iupati, Orlando Franklin or Bryan Beluga.  Nope.  Instead, the Giants picked up former Bengal, Marshall Newhouse (an average offensive lineman at best).  Additionally, the Giants went outside the box to improve ther line situation by turning to our neighbors to the north.  This off-season, the Giants picked up the Canadian Football League's best offensive lineman in Brett Jones.  Jones, 23, was voted the CFL's top rookie in 2013 and will add some much needed depth to the Giants offensive line.  Aside from free agency, we cannot forget about this year's NFL draft.  Many NFL analysts believe the Giants will take an offensive lineman (Brandon Scherff or Andrus Peat) with the ninth pick of the draft.  Regardless of whether they decide to take a lineman in the first round or not, it is an absolute certainty that the Giants will look to bolster their pass protection at some point in the draft, and it will most likely be earlier rather than later.  Finally, with Geoff Schwartz returning from injured reserve (along with 19 other Giants), Eli Manning will undoubtedly have more time in the pocket next year.

Weapons Galore: A bolstered receiving corps

Last year Manning had one of the most productive seasons of his career, completing 63.1% of his passes (highest completion percentage of his career) for 4410 yards, 30 TDs and only 15 INTs.  What makes these stats even more impressive is that Eli was able to accomplish these numbers in a new offensive system, missing his favorite receiver in Victor Cruz since week 6.  Before being injured, Cruz was on pace for another 1000+ yard season.  Fortunately, the loss set the stage for rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to have a record breaking rookie season, solidifying him as one of the most elite receivers in the NFL.  Eli will look forward to having Cruz, his favorite receiver, back in 2015 and if all goes according to plan, he will return 100% healthy.  However, things rarely go according to plan after such a major injury (torn patellar tendon).  The top concern entering 2015 is that Cruz won't be able to regain his elite speed and route running ability.  However, a sigh of relief may be in store for the Giants entering the draft.  Recently, more and more buzz has been revolving around the idea that if Amari Cooper falls to the Giants in the draft, he may become the newest member of Big Blue.  Now, while many people argue that the Giants don't need to take a receiver in the first round, GM Jerry Reese is notoriously known for picking the best available player on the board, regardless of team need.  Either way, expect the Giants to have a better wide receiver corps in 2015.

Additionally, the Giants gave Eli another weapon through free agency in the form of pass-catching specialist running back, Shane Vereen.  In 2014, Manning completed 379 passes on 601 attempts (63.1%).  Of his 379 completions, only 62 (16.5%) were caught by running backs.  Enter Shane Vereen.  In 2014, Vereen hauled in 52 passes from former teammate Tom Brady for 447 yards and 3 TDs.  The year before, he caught 47 passes for 427 yards and 3 TDs.  Without a doubt, Vereen has solidified himself as one of the most reliable pass catching backs in the NFL.  In fact, last year only a handful of RBs had more receptions than Vereen, most of them being workhorse backs (Matt Forte, Le'veon Bell, Demarco Murray, and Fred Jackson).  Expect Vereen's numbers to increase even further in 2015 under McAdoo's quick pass system, becoming Manning's number one check down option.  Additionally with TE Larry Donnell proving that he is an unrefined but talented pass catcher and WR Rueben Randle finally showing flashes of greatness at the end of the season, it is easy to say that the Giants will have one of the most dangerous receiving corps in the NFL.

Conclusion: What to expect from Manning in 2015

Coming off one of the best seasons of his career (1st in completion percentage, 2nd in yards, 2nd in TDs, and 2nd in INTs), in a brand new system, missing his favorite receiver, Manning's fantasy potential has never been higher than it is entering 2015.  A bolstered offensive line, the return of all-pro wideout Victor Cruz, and the addition of Shane Vereen means that the Giants look to be a pass first team next year under McAdoo's quick pass offense.  Add all of those with the fact that Manning will finally have a full season of experience in McAdoo's system and you're left with a top 5 QB.  What makes Eli even more enticing for 2015 is the fact that his name is Eli "27 Interceptions" Manning.  This means that Manning will outlast most other QB1s in the draft, further increasing his value.

2015 Projection: #4 QB Overall Standard Scoring

-4900 yards

-38 TDs

-14 INTs

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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.

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When news of Pierre Thomas' release from the New Orleans Saints broke earlier this month, Mark Ingram's stock skyrocketed.  Prospective fantasy owners were beaming at the idea that Ingram may finally become the workhorse back that we've all wanted him to be.  However, all of that changed in the past week when the Saints signed veteran running back C.J. Spiller to a hefty 4-year, $18 million contract.  While the Saints are clearly going to benefit from signing Spiller, fantasy owners are at a loss and it's tough to get a good read on the situation.  Will Spiller be relegated to "change of pace" duties, or are we going to see another true timeshare in New Orleans?  In this article we will break down the strengths and weaknesses of both players and try to make sense of this headache of a backfield.

Numbers Don't Lie...

Although the Saints most likely plan on using these two great running backs in tandem, the simple truth is that both of them perform better when the spotlight is solely on them.  Last year when Mark Ingram was finally given the reins, he posted a modest, yet respectable 4.3 yards per carry average.  Though not eye-popping, his 9 TD's in 13 games shows that he has what it takes to produce as a starting fantasy RB.  Likewise, during C.J. Spiller's breakout 2012 campaign, he averaged an incredible 6.0 yards per carry along with 8 total TD's.  Although his numbers have been less than stellar since 2012, Spiller has undoubtedly proven that he has what it takes to be a viable starting fantasy RB.  Additionally, both of these young veterans have been cursed by playing behind fan-loved veterans in Pierre Thomas and Fred Jackson.  Now that both are free of that burden, the numbers will decide who gets the spotlight next year.

Rushing vs. Receiving

When looking at the numbers, both Ingram and Spiller have proven to be quality running backs, each averaging 4.2 and 5.0 yards per carry throughout their careers, respectively.  However, in today's NFL an RB must be multi-dimensional.  The days of 25+ carries per game are over.  Today, it's about making the most of what little opportunities you have, and more importantly, being a threat in the passing game.  This fact becomes even more important when talking about the Saints offense, as they attempted to pass on 61.8% of all offensive plays in 2014.  So what does this mean for Spiller and Ingram?  The simple answer here is that Spiller dominates Ingram in the passing game.  In five seasons Spiller accumulated 158 receptions for 1,195 yards and 6 TD's.  Likewise, in four seasons Ingram was only able to accumulate 53 receptions for 288 yards and 0 TD's.  Although Ingram was playing with Pierre Thomas, a receiving back specialist, it is clear that Spiller will be the receiving back in New Orleans' offense, further boosting his stock in PPR formats.

Outlook for 2015

So far we've come to two simple conclusions. First, both Spiller and Ingram are capable of handling starting RB responsibilities and thrive in a workhorse back setting. Second, C.J. Spiller has proven to be the superior pass catching RB, a trait necessary to thrive in the Saints offense.  Unfortunately these two facts lead to the likely conclusion that Ingram will handle 1st and 2nd down duties, while Spiller will come in on 3rd down and other passing situations.  Unfortunately this means the worst for fantasy owners as neither Spiller nor Ingram will reach their true fantasy potential in 2015.  However, there is a bright side.  As both running backs have proven to be quality starters, and both have a seemingly unfortunate injury history, this combination should be looked at as one of the most valuable handcuffs going into 2015.  If either Spiller or Ingram go down at some point in the season, expect the other to thrive as the sole rusher in the Saints backfield.  Additionally, because Spiller is the more proven back, him taking over starting RB duties is not outside the realm of possibility.  At the end of the day, against most mocks to date, I would take Spiller before Ingram come draft day (especially in PPR formats).  Either way, if you decide to take either of these RBs in 2015, you had better make sure to grab the other while you can.

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Throughout the 2014 season, one of the biggest stories was the immediate success of the rookie wide receiver class.  Whether it was Odell Beckham’s “catch seen around the world,” or Mike Evans consistent production week in and week out, the fantasy world was buzzing over the unprecedented success of the rookie class. And it wasn’t just Beckham or Evans making headlines.  In fact, for the first time ever, eight rookie wide receivers finished within the top 50 WRs on the season (almost 20%!).  But can we expect this production again? 

It is well known that the dreaded ‘sophomore slump’ has claimed many an NFL rising star (Michael Clayton, Mike Williams, and Zac Stacy to name a few).  So what does this mean for the best WR class to date? Can we expect eye-popping numbers again, or are we doomed to fantasy peril by investing in these young stars?  In this article we will examine the top rookie WRs from last season and predict whether they will rise or fall in their sophomore season.

 

1)     Odell Beckham Jr. (5th WR Overall in Standard Scoring)

 

The man, the myth, the legend.  The 2014 offensive rookie of the year had the greatest start to his career than any other wide receiver in history.  Period.  In only twelve games he caught 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 TDs. Wow! But what can we expect from the breakout rookie in 2015?  It should come as no surprise that Beckham’s production was increased after the season ending injury suffered by wide out Victor Cruz.  With Victor Cruz coming back next season we shouldn’t be surprised if Beckham’s targets drop a bit.  However, his production may not take too much of a hit (if any at all). With Cruz back on the field defenses will have one more playmaker to keep their eyes on.  And with the emergence of Rueben Randle towards the end of the season (further catching the attention of opposing defenses), OBJ will have plenty of space to work with.  Additionally, with Eli Manning growing more and more accustomed to Ben McAdoo’s new offense, we should have a top 5 wide out on our hands.

 

Projected WR Rank: 4th Overall

 

2)     Mike Evans (10th WR Overall in Standard Scoring)

 

Entering the offseason, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have many holes to fill, the most important of these being at the QB position.  With the #1 pick in the 2015 draft, the Bucs are expected to take one of the top two QBs of the draft in Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.  Rookie QBs are always a big question mark going into a season, but if Mike Evans was able to produce top 10 numbers with Josh McCown and Mike Glennon under center, we shouldn’t expect less with either of the two rookie QBs.  As a true deep threat, Mike Evans should pair nicely with the strong arm of Jameis Winston, giving us a possible WR1 next season.

 

Projected WR Rank: 12th Overall

 

3)     Kelvin Benjamin (17th WR Overall in Standard Scoring)

 

In his rookie season, Kelvin Benjamin utilized his size, becoming one of the greatest red zone threats in the NFL.  Unfortunately for Benjamin, he’s the only receiving threat on the field, and with a less than mediocre run game, defenses need only focus on Benjamin.  Additionally, the Panthers must upgrade their offensive line in order to give Benjamin time to create space and allow Cam Newton to find the open man.  With the recent release of veteran RB DeAngelo Williams, the Panthers need to add some playmakers to their roster if Benjamin has any chance of repeating his solid WR2 numbers in 2015.

 

Projected WR Rank: 18th Overall

 

4)     Jordan Matthews (24th WR Overall in Standard Scoring)

 

As the 7th WR taken in the 2014 draft, Jordan Matthews exceeded expectations by finishing as the 4th best rookie wide out and the 24th overall wide out.  The simple fact about Jordan
Matthews is that Chip Kelly really likes him.  In fact, he had to trade up in the draft (10th pick of the 2nd round) just to get him.  With the approval of Chip Kelly, Matthews saw plenty of playing time right off the bat.  However, his production fell in the middle of the season (failed to gain more than 50 receiving yards in a game between weeks 4-10).  This was not Matthews fault.  The fact of the matter is that the Eagles need to address their quarterback situation, and if we know anything about Chip Kelly, he’s not a afraid to make a monumental deal that would give Matthews the help that he needs.

 

Projected WR Rank: 22nd Overall

 

5)     Sammy Watkins (25th WR Overall in Standard Scoring)

 

At the beginning of the season, it appeared as though Sammy Watkins deserved to be the first receiver taken in the 2014 draft.  However, as the season progressed Watkins’ numbers were devastated by poor QB play in Buffalo.  Unless the Bills can trade up in the draft and grab Winston or Mariota (probably not going to happen), it is unlikely that the Bills QB situation will improve in 2015.  A natural talent, Watkins is plagued by a poor offense and poor system.  Additionally, Watkins doesn’t have the speed (4.43-40) of fellow rookie Brandin Cooks (4.33-40), or the size (6’1” 205 lbs) of fellow rookie Kelvin Benjamin (6’5” 243 lbs), or the hands of fellow rookie Odell Beckham Jr.  Though it is undeniable that Watkins is a natural talent, all of these factors lead us to believe that we may see a true sophomore slump from Watkins next season.

 

Projected WR Rank: 28th Overall

 

 Though we’ve only covered the top five rookie wide outs from last season, the rest of the rookie class deserves recognition, and in fact some may even make a jump ahead of the 5 WRs listed above.  Listed below are the projected ranks of the remaining top 13 rookie wide receivers in order of their 2014 rank:

 

7)     Martavis Bryant* – Projected WR Rank: 32nd Overall

8)     Jarvis Landry* – Projected WR Rank 35th Overall

9)     Brandin Cooks* – Projected WR Rank: 26th Overall

10   Taylor Gabriel – Projected WR Rank: 70th Overall

11   Allen Robinson – Projected WR Rank: 58th Overall

12   Donte Moncrief* – Projected WR Rank: 30th Overall

13   Davante Adams* – Projected WR Rank: 42nd Overall

 

 

Potential Sleepers = *

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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

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