Michael Stepney

Michael Stepney

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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/

 It's the middle of February and you're eagerly awaiting the NFL Combine, which signals the unofficial beginning of the new league year. But, the actual start of the new league year coincides with the start of free agency, March 9th. This is the first component of team building (the Free Agency Frenzy) with all 32 teams jockeying for position to acquire player(s) that could change their fortunes and jump-start their chances to reach the playoffs, or perhaps even a Super Bowl. The second component of team building for the 2017 season is the NFL Draft (which runs April 27th-29th) and is where most teams would want to build the core of their team through. And, there will undoubtedly be several rookies that will make a sizeable impact for their respective NFL teams this season, and ipso facto your fantasy team.

Of course, the question you’re probably asking me is: “What the hell does this have to do with my fantasy football team?” My answer is: “If you give me a thousand words, I’ll gladly show you the correlation between free agency, the draft, and fantasy football.”

Free Agency

Free Agency is a tool that as a fantasy football owner you must continually monitor to get the latest information because player value and production can wildly fluctuate depending on what team he signs with and the offense he will be in. It is also useful in a predictive fashion too, you can take a look at the “markets” that have been set for certain positions and use that information to anticipate the moves of both players and teams.

NFL Draft

Now as for the Draft, a rookie can show up immediately and impress the offensive coaching staff and be rewarded with more playing time with the No. 1 offense and be a surprise playmaker to increase his fantasy value to owners who are looking for that hidden gem.

Now that’s been fully explained, let’s cut to the chase and look at the important impending free agents and see where they may have a big fantasy impact for the 2017 season:

Alshon Jeffrey | WR

Suffice it to say Jeffrey very easily could have been the winner of the shitty timing award when it came to having a down statistical year and being suspended 4 games for PED use before his walk year. Fortunately, the cap keeps rising, the crop around him is weak and he is perhaps the top name on the market (possibly at any position).  I believe that he’ll get huge interest from teams looking for a physical, big-bodied WR1 who can make contested catches and is a potent red-zone threat. It is entirely possible that Jeffrey will sign a contract making him one of the highest-paid wide receivers in the entire NFL. In fact, it wouldn’t shock me if he came away with one of the biggest contracts ever recorded for a wide receiver, that is simply where we are now with this cap rising and the lack of talent out on the open market. (For what it is worth I could see him making around $18 million dollars a season, making him the top prize in the free agent market).

Potential suitors: Eagles, Ravens, 49ers, Buccaneers

Kenny Stills | WR  

If you look at his “surface” numbers, nothing about Stills’ season screams “high-priority” free agent, but if you do that, I’d simply reply with “When I can join your league?”  Stills’ yard per catch (YPC) since the New Orleans Saints made him the 144th overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft has been above 14.0, meaning whenever the ball comes his way, it’s usually for a huge chunk play down the field. All he needs is a legitimate chance to be the WR2 in an offense and his statistics have a chance to rise exponentially. Plus, he has an advantage that GM’s crave:  He’s a young veteran entering his free agency period (He will turn 26 on April 22nd).

Potential suitors: Dolphins, Eagles, Buccaneers

DeSean Jackson | WR

Now, here’s the other prize jewel of the wide receiver free agent crop! Everyone under the sun knows what D-Jax is all about: taking deep shots, yards-after-catch, and of course scoring touchdowns. With his time with Washington seemingly coming to an end (IF you believe the media reports coming out of D.C.) His services are available to the highest bidder (he’s all about getting his paper). But, he did say that he wanted to play with a GREAT quarterback. Notwithstanding trying to get a nice contract for himself, the next team that acquires him will immediately get a playmaker, game breaker, & someone who tilts the field dramatically for the offense; he truly is a player who takes the top off of the defense.

Potential suitors: Eagles, Buccaneers, 49ers

Terrelle Pryor | WR

The former quarterback, who switched positions after flaming out as the signal caller in Oakland, broke the 1,000-yard barrier in his first full season as a wide receiver (and this came with the carousel of epic mediocrity that the Cleveland Browns ran out at quarterback last season). While some maturity questions may still linger with Pryor, his play last season showed glimpses of even a higher ceiling. If the Browns are smart, they will aggressively attempt to sign him to a lucrative long-term contract, which shouldn’t be difficult seeing they have the most cap space in the entire NFL.

Potential suitors: Browns, Buccaneers, 49ers

 

The QB free agent class this year isn’t comprised of any franchise type, but there are several who could make a team markedly better. Mike Glennon, who has spent his entire career in Tampa Bay, is seeking to become a starter and will cash in with a nice starter-level contract (or become the highest paid backup in the league, outside of Brock Osweiler I suppose). Jay Cutler will probably be cut from the Bears and despite having great natural throwing talent, his maddening inconsistency and propensity for throwing back-breaking interceptions may prevent him from being pursued as anything more than a bridge quarterback again. Kirk Cousins may seek a trade to the 49ers from Washington to play with his old offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who is also their newly named head coach, but the reality is he will probably end up playing one more season in Washington under the franchise tag before totally redefining the quarterback market next season as the most sought after free agent.

Martellus Bennett | TE

The mercurial, but talented tight end finally seemed to find a home in New England with Brady and Belichick. Bennett turned into a savvy low-cost investment with the season-ending injury to Rob Gronkowski; he was an integral piece to the Patriots winning Super Bowl LI and now he’s hitting free agency at the absolute perfect time. At the moment, with the uncertainty of Gronk’s health coming into the 2017 season, it would behoove the Patriots to make a reasonable offer to keep Bennett in the fold. Watch for the NY Giants to possibly make a play for Bennett since they have a glaring need at the TE position, reuniting him with a quarterback and offense scheme where he’s already had previous success.

Potential suitors: Patriots, Giants, Lions  

LeGarrette Blount | RB

The hammer of the Pats running game had a career year with 18 rushing TDs (no, that’s a typo!) and helped the Pats win their 5th Super Bowl as a franchise. Now Blount hits free agency with a lot of momentum behind him and is probably looking at a long-term contract with some nice guarantees worked in. It’s possible that Mr. Blount finds his market to be cooler than anticipated when you factor in his age (he will be 30 at the start of next season) and the issues he has already with the league. I could see a team like the Raiders making a play for his services to replace Latavius Murray should he depart via free agency.

Potential suitors: Patriots, Raiders, Packers

Danny Woodhead | RB

The versatile, tough as nails, red zone magnet is recovering from an ACL tear suffered early in the 2016 season and is currently a free agent. His production as a member of the Chargers has warranted at least a 1-yr incentive based contract with a team that needs a steady, veteran running back with a nose for the end zone. Inevitably some fantasy football pundits will look at Woodhead and argue this: “he’s suffered 2 season-ending injuries the last 2 years, he’s getting brittle or injury-prone”.

My retort would be: “Don’t be afraid to take low-cost risks for high-leverage gains.” Woodhead will make any team in the NFL better because of his knowledge, toughness, and ability to score TD’s. The Los Angeles Chargers would be wise to sign him back to team with Melvin Gordon and they will have a formidable 1-2 punch in their backfield.

Potential suitors: Chargers, Packers, Colts, Rams, Buccaneers

 

As of March 4th, two big name running backs and a wide receiver, who are also 30+ years of age, were released by their respective teams making them unrestricted free agents available to sign with any team.

Adrian Peterson | RB

To the surprise of no one, the Vikings made the proactive decision to release their all-time leading rusher since they weren’t going to go into the 2017 season paying a 31-year old (He’ll be 32 in March) running back $18 million, especially considering he suffered his second major knee injury in as many years last season. The early release gives Peterson and his agent a chance to get to test the free agent running back market and see if there’s a team willing to give Peterson a contract of his suiting when free agency begins. If not, it is entirely possible he could come back home to the Vikings, but at a much lower price.

Potential suitors: Vikings, Giants, Seahawks

Jamaal Charles | RB

After 9 very productive seasons, the Kansas City Chiefs released the 30-year old running back deciding to go with Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West, and the recently signed CJ Spiller as their main backfield. I still believe that Charles has something left in the tank and it would be an interesting move for a team looking for a running back that can be a home run hitter and a dynamic playmaker (Hello Eagles). He averaged 5.0 yards a carry or better in 7 of his first 8 seasons (He averaged 4.97 in 2013). But his 2016 season was derailed by recurring problems with both knees, and he struggled to get on the field.

As being a fantasy football GM goes, it would be a next level move to take a late flier in summer drafts on Jamaal Charles being able to recapture some of his former glory more than Peterson. He’s a power back with declining yards per carry for the last several years and Charles needs fewer touches to be a factor whether through running the ball or being a pass receiver out of the backfield.

Potential suitors: Eagles, Colts, Raiders, Packers

Brandon Marshall | WR

On March 2nd, it was announced that the New York Jets will give Marshall his unconditional release, although they did offer him a contract for the 2017 season per various media reports. However, Marshall is seeking a chance to win a championship with another team and asked for his release in order to find a franchise that is not in the midst of a complete rebuild. I personally believe Marshall has something left in the tank and teams on the precipice of a playoff berth should be looking at him for that missing piece.

Potential suitors: Ravens, Cowboys, Patriots, Raiders  

 

In closing, when it comes to the correlation between free agency and fantasy football, be cognizant of all the major media reports/signings when it begins March 9th. It could radically affect who you’re thinking about taking in your league drafts later in the summer. Stay a top of all news coming from the team’s beat writers to see who’s doing well and who’s struggling.

Don’t be content reading out of date magazines; be proactive instead of reactive. That’s why I’m here to keep you up-to-date with all of the NFL transactions relevant to fantasy football.

 

FORTUNE FAVORS THE BOLD

Hoping to make your fantasy football season much easier and fun.

Your fantasy football GM,

Michael Stepney(@MStepney71)

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