A Defense can be one of the biggest conundrums in fantasy year in and year out. People tend to go with popular Defensive choices like the Seattle Seahawks or Carolina Panthers rather early in drafts. Just because it’s Round 10 doesn’t mean choose a defense. There are still valuable players and handcuffs to acquire during the latter rounds of a draft.
Going by the finishing statistics of 2016, only one defense finished in the top five as their projection at the beginning of the season. According to ESPN Scoring, Denver Broncos D/ST had an average ADP of pick 67 which is asinine and only scored 152 points in 2016. That’s mid-fifth round in 12-team leagues and mid-sixth round in 10-team leagues. Let me ask you a question would you rather have Broncos Defense or future 2016-17 MVP Matt Ryan whose ADP was pick 114.
Think smart on average defenses can score you 150 to 180 points in a good year depending on your league scoring. Every other position eclipses those numbers by mid-season. Kickers score more than Defenses do on average per year, and they get chosen as flier picks in the last round of every draft. Last season, the Atlanta Falcons Kicker Matt Bryant scored a whopping 212 points outscoring the highest Defense by 46 points, that’s astonishing for a position we thought was worthless.
It’s time to implore a new philosophy of choosing Defenses last in drafts instead of Kickers. Don’t panic when you see four or five Defenses already off the board here a few tips to finding the Defensive Gems of 2017. Choose a Defensive Unit with one of these qualities:
· D/ST VS Consistent Bad QB Play
o Look for a D/ST that goes up against a lot of inexperienced QBs like Brock Osweiler, any Cleveland Browns QB, or Blake Borltes. Zeroing in on a defenses schedule will help you find the gems you need that will help you succeed during the regular season.
o Bad QB Play turns into natural points either sacks or turnovers. Rookie QB’s have a tendency of struggling against any defense, so look for those type of matchups as well.
o For instance, the Chiefs was the No. 1 D/ST of 2016. They took advantage of games where they faced QBs like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Trevor Semian (twice), Jameis Winston, Brock Osweiler, and Blake Bortles. All of which are either young or turnover prone.
· D/ST That Creates Turnovers
o Teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or San Diego Chargers were barely drafted but were some of the top turnover leaders. Tampa Bay led the league with four interceptions returned for touchdowns, which is a huge boost to any roster.
o Overall Arizona Cardinals high ranked defense lived up to expectation by creating a league-high 25 forced fumbles and 48 sacks.
· D/ST With a Lethal Special Teams Unit
o Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, and Philadelphia Eagles are teams that boast lethal Special Team units. Cordarrelle Patterson, Ty ”Freak” Hill and Darren Sproles are one of a kind talents that can take any kickoff return to the house.
All of these qualities are pertinent to selecting a Defense that will be beneficial to your team and draft position. I learned to wait on this position and collect value at others in 2016. So, try philosophy in 2017 and see if you can come out more dominant rosters from top to bottom. It always feels good to get bailed out from somewhere you least expected it.
Editor's note: This is Part 3 in a several part series where we dissect each offensive fantasy position and tell you what happened this season (2016) and how you can apply those lessons into your draft for next season (2017). You can check out all the lessons learned from quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends throughout the offseason.
Coming out of the 2015 season, the 2016 quarterback landscape was looking good. In 2015 all of the top 13 QBs threw for 30+ touchdowns and the top 6 all had over 300 fantasy points. In 2016 however, only five players threw 30+ touchdowns and only three QBs topped the 300 fantasy point bar. So, what did we learn about the quarterback position this fantasy season? Did anything go right or was this just simply a down year for quarterbacks?
We learned that…mechanics make the wheel go round
2016 was the year the general football consensus learned the importance of QB mechanics. Many quarterbacks have managed to skate by on arm talent alone and that makes them good fantasy options for one season. But inconsistent mechanics means inconsistent quarterback play and this means inconsistent fantasy production in the long run, explaining the huge drop off in quarterback production from 2015 to 2016.
Brock Osweiler was at the helm of arguably the most talented offense in the NFL. Surrounded by DeAndre Hopkins, Lamar Miller and Will Fuller, Osweiler’s lethargic wind-up and sluggish release resulted in batted balls and many uncatchable targets due to his side-arm release.
The same goes for Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles. The Jags offensive performance in 2015 garnered questions as to whether they were home to the best wide receiver tandem in the league in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Bortles’ terrible 2016 mechanics resulted in Allen Robinson, a borderline 1st/2nd round pick in August, becoming effectively unusable this season as Bortles began to drop the ball below his elbow in his wind up leading to an unnecessarily long release and producing overthrown passes.
Even last year’s MVP Cam Newton along with rookie prospect Carson Wentz had their mechanical flaws expose them this season. Relying on arm strength alone leads to inaccuracy and produces passes often too low for receivers to catch. Forced passes and backfoot throws are all traits of a quarterback’s reliance on their arm strength and often result in passes being too far behind receivers. Using your arm instead of your body is a quick recipe for an interception. Neither player steps into their throws and so they struggle to throw with touch and anticipation.
Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees on the other hand have perfect mechanics and it comes as no surprise that both of them are consistently top 5 fantasy quarterbacks, with the odd SuperBowl thrown in too.
We learned that…mojo doesn’t last
Momentum is a term we hear a lot regarding NFL offenses and it is often why fantasy owners worry when their players return from their bye-weeks as offense is all about practice, repetition and chemistry. Offenses that can keep their momentum going throughout the season are both NFL gold and fantasy gold.
In 2015 we saw that a few offenses certainly were feeling their mojo and this lead to stellar quarterback play. Cam Newton, Blake Bortles and Carson Palmer were all part of high-flying offenses last year and all finished as top 5 fantasy quarterbacks.
However, without relatively much changing, all three of those quarterbacks failed to repeat this in 2016, with Newton following his QB1 season finishing as the QB18 and Palmer slotting in right behind him. Strangely enough, the much maligned Blake Bortles finished as the best of the bad bunch with a confusing QB8 ranking.
As we all accept Bortles is a fantasy anomaly year on year, the rankings clearly show that momentum doesn’t carry over through the offseason. With this in mind, beware of drafting the wildly inform quarterbacks from this season again in 2017. I’m looking at you Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford.
We learned about…the new kids on the fantasy block
2016 however, wasn’t all bad. With Peyton Manning retiring and Tom Brady and Drew Brees getting up there in years, 2016 saw the birth of the new crop of fantasy studs. Derek Carr (QB9), Marcus Mariota (QB15) and of course Dak Prescott (QB6) had a coming out party this year.
Carr was an MVP candidate this season and probably would’ve finished as a top 5 QB without his injury in week 16. Mariota, who was also similarly injured to Carr in week 16, was complete gold-dust early in the season with three top 5 finishes in quick succession and threw for two or more touchdowns in two thirds of the games he played in in 2016.
And we couldn’t discuss young quarterbacks without talking about the man of the moment, Dak Prescott. Prescott finished 2016 tied 5th for total touchdowns with 29 but the true measure of Prescott’s greatness this year has been in his ability to limit his interception total with only 4 INTs. Not only does that result in less negative points but it also keeps drives alive and results in more scoring opportunities for Prescott, who has also demonstrated legitimate rushing capability too.
We learned to…please wait on QB
If 2016 has taught us anything, it is that you please, PLEASE wait on a quarterback when you draft next season. Unless you’re drafting Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, there is no need to take a quarterback in the first 6 rounds. Top RBs and WRs are so few and far between and with injuries too, the need to stockpile your skill position players is greater than ever before. Fantasy is usually uses only one quarterback per line-up and as quarterback is so deep there is no need to waste a high pick on a brand name quarterback. Instead take a RB/WR and wait for a sensible upside QB.
For example, Ben Roethlisberger had a 6th round ADP and finished as the QB16 whereas Dak Prescott for instance had a 12th round ADP and finished as the QB6. It doesn’t stop there either; Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr were all available in rounds 10-12 and all finished as top 10 QBs this season. But the craziest thing of all…Matt Ryan was undrafted this year in the majority of leagues. Wait and bet on upside, you might just wind up picking up the QB2 off the waiver wire.
Thank you for reading, you can follow Will Pendleton on twitter @willpendosports
Teddy Bridgewater, QB/Minnesota Vikings (12% owned)
Rookie quarterbacks will highlight two of the top waiver wire additions, as Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgwater will both make their first career NFL starts in Week 4. Bridgewater was thrust into action during Week 4 after quarterback Matt Cassel was forced from the game with what appears to be a broken foot, according to various Minnesota new outlets.
Bridgewater was solid in his relief duties, showing great poise in the pocket and displayed the ability to make plays outside of the pocket. He finished the day 12 for 20 with 150 yards, moving the ball consistently against the Saints 29th ranked pass defense, but failed to get the offense in the end zone. Bridgewater also used his feet, racking up 27 rushing yards on six attempts. Rushing yards are always a huge help for fantasy points.
Even though you never wish injury upon someone, the timing couldn't be better for the rookie to make his first professional start. It never hurts to debut at home as a rookie, and Bridgewater will also face the Falcons 25th ranked pass defense with a secondary that's susceptible to big plays.
Whether Bridgewater is ready or not to take over full-time as the Vikings starter is irrelevant. With Cassel out for an extended period of time, it's looking like the Teddy Bridgewater era has officially begun in Minnesota. While I would not want to depend on Bridgewater, or any rookie quarterback for that matter as my starting quarterback, he has playmakers in Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings to help take pressure off.
For a more in depth scouting report on Teddy Bridgewater, check out our Teddy Bridgewater Fantasy Prospectus.
Recommendation: Add In Deep Leagues, Bye Week Replacement
2. Blake Bortles QB/Jacksonville Jaguars (14% Owned)
So much for the redshirt year for the 3rd overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Head Coach Gus Bradley finally came to his senses, although it was probably not hard for him after watching Chad Henne play quarterback the last few weeks. Bortles will be the teams starting quarterback against the Chargers this week.
Even though Bortles is going to be the future for the Jaguars at the quarterback position, I have my doubts about him from a fantasy prospective. Pro Football Focus negatively graded out Bortles not only as a passer (-5.0) but also as an overall outlook as well (-3.8 overall).
Commonly compared to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger due to his physical playing style and ability to extend plays with his legs, Bortles will need to use every ounce of talent to be successful behind one of the worst offensive lines in football. Though 121 passing attempts, the Jaguars offensive line has allowed 10 hits, hurries and allowed 30 pressures.
Bortles finished his rookie debut 14 of 24 (58.3%) for 223 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. With all of the injuries the Jaguars have on offense (Gerhart, Lee, Shorts III), it's fair to question whether or not the Jaguars can be consistent enough to depend on Bortles as a weekly fantasy option. If you're in a deeper league (12-16), Bortles could be an interesting waiver wire addition with starters Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson and Andy Dalton on a bye. He's also fairly owner-friendly matchup with the San Diego Chargers in week 4.
Value: Low QB2
Recommendation: Add in Deeper Leauges, Two QB Leagues
3. Lorenzo Taliaferro RB/Baltimore Ravens (7% Owned)
With starting running back Bernard Pierce sitting out Sunday with a hip injury, there was an opportunity for someone to make a major impact. After gashing the Browns on Sunday to the tune of 91 yards on 18 carries (5.05 YPC) little known fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro will be one of the hot commodities on the waiver wire heading into week 4.
A fourth round pick out of Coastal Carolina, Taliaferro has been making his case to be more involved in the Ravens offensive plans since preseason. Taliaferro led the NFL in rushing yards during the preseason (253) and looked to be an excellent fit for Coach Kubiak’s zone-run system. Taliaferro is not the fastest guy (4.58 40 yard dash), but where the rookie lacks in speed he makes up for with elite agility (5th in 3 Cone Drill).
No one will confuse Taliaferro for Pierre Thomas, or any of the other elite receiving backs in the game, but he is serviceable. Taliaferro caught a total of 27 passes in college, but saw his single season total jump from four to 23 from his junior to senior year.
While Bernard Pierce is supposed to be back in the lineup next weekend, some fantasy owners may be hesitant to put in a waiver claim for a guy who may not be the feature back. However, during his time as the starter for the Ravens Pierce has shown to be no more than an above average COP back, averaging a mediocre 4.02 yards per touch over the first two years of his career. It's clear that Taliaferro possesses the most talent of the Ravens backs, so even though Coach Harbaugh has stated his intentions for Pierce to be the starter when healthy, if Taliaferro continues to be effective he will earn more carries as the season progresses.
Value: High RB4
Recommendation: Add Immediately
4. Marvin Jones WR/Cincinnati Bengals (22% Owned)
After finishing his sophomore campaign with 51 catches, the thinking was Cincinnati finally found someone they can depend on opposite A.J. Green. After breaking his foot during training camp, third year receiver Marvin Jones is getting close to making his 2014 debut.
Most known for his four-touchdown performance in Week 8 against the New York Jets, Jones was a boom-or-bust fantasy play last season. Over the course of the final eight weeks of the 2014 season, Jones had only had one game with more than 80 receiving yards in a game, and saw three or fewer receptions in half of those games.
Despite the inconsistencies last season, Jones was one of the Bengals most featured receivers. Over the last four weeks of the season, only A.J. Green saw more targets (47) than Jones did (34), and scored the same amount of touchdowns that Green did (3). With Green currently playing through what is being called a toe injury by various Bengals reporters the return of Jones could be exactly what the Bengals passing attack needs.
The hope is that Jones will be ready to return after the Bengals week four bye. He will immediately be penciled in as the teams no. 2 wide out when he comes back, and should help draw some of the coverage away from superstar receiver A.J. Green. Although the concerns about yardage are legitimate, Jones has a nose with a scent for the end zone, scoring 10 total receiving touchdowns last season including three in the final four weeks of the season.
Value: Low WR3/High WR4 with Potential
Recommendation: Stash in Deep Leagues
5. Ronnie Hillman RB/Denver Broncos (16% Owned)
If there is one thing a young player can do to make sure they stay on the pine pony rather than getting out on the field is to not take care of the football. After losing a fumble in this week against the Seahawks, Montee Ball will need to take better care of the football in order to keep the rest of the Broncos running backs from eating into the second year player’s workload.
Hillman has had his own ball security issues during the early stages of his career, losing two fumbles in each of his first two seasons in the league. Despite the loose hands, Hillman has proven to be a reliable option out of the backfield averaging 5.8 yards per carry through his first two seasons.
Hillman saw a measly two carries this week against the Seahawks, though much of that had to due with the Broncos in comeback mode for the entire second half. Hillman is firmly behind Montee Ball as the Broncos starting running back, and will likely not provide much fantasy value unless Ball continues to cough up the rock.
Like coaches say, “Ball security is job security, yours and mine.”
Recommendation: Keep Monitoring
View Kyle Engman's Flickr page here.
Fresh out of Penn State, drafted in the second round and equipped with a crazy 42-inch vertical leap, a 6'3, 220lb frame that's all juiced up with 4.47 40 speed, Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson has officially landed on the fantasy radar. Based on his recent performances, it's looking like the 21-year old rookie could be in line for solid WR3/flex production going forward.
Owned in just 2 percent of Yahoo! Leagues, Robinson first hinted at his potential in Week 2 against the Washington Redskins. Though Jacksonville played poorly, Robinson led the Jaguars in receiving with 75 yards on four catches and tied for a team-high six targets. He totaled seven fantasy points, and while it's not much, it's still solid considering most WR3's in deep leagues give you less production than that. Also, most potential WR3's aren't available in 98 percent of Yahoo! Leagues.
Robinson played in just 60 percent of the team's snaps in Week 2, which paled in comparison to fellow rookie Allen Hurns, who was on the field for 96 percent of them. Another rookie, Marqise Lee, played in 74 percent of snaps against Washington. Still, Robinson was the more productive player despite seeing less time on the field. Though his biggest catch of 51 yards came in garbage time, fantasy points are fantasy points. When the game ended, it was a sign that Robinson could be in line for more looks going forward.
Robinson's first start
With Lee sidelined due to a hamstring injury in Week 3, Robinson made his first start and didn't disappoint. He tallied 7 receptions for 79 yards which led the Jags. He also totaled 10 targets, the most he's had all season.
Looking ahead, Lee is expected to miss Week 4 as he battles that same injury, and while Hurns managed to turn his only catch against the Colts into a 61-yard touchdown, he wasn't the most sought after player in the Jags' offense with only three targets. It's likely Robinson will continue to remain the focal point of the offense and see anywhere from 10-12 targets consistently from here on out.
Another point of intrigue for fantasy owners is how Robinson showed a little bit of everything against the Colts last Sunday. Quarterback Chad Henne targeted Robinson in both the short and deep passing game. Robinson caught slant passes for short yardage, quick screen passes and also showed off his YAC ability after spinning out of a tackle off a curl route which resulted in his biggest gain of the day of 21 yards. Henne took some shots at Robinson down the field as well, and although he couldn't reel the one deep bomb Henne chucked his way due to double coverage, fantasy owners have to be excited about a player that has that kind of range in terms of the variety of routes he can run.
The fact that Robinson is being targeted in a variety of ways shows he has the potential to be the most complete wide receiver on the Jaguars. As of now, no receiver possesses more physical gifts on the Jags. Shorts is more of a possession receiver who lacks elite speed, as evidenced by his 11.8 yards per catch average last year which ranked 70th in the league. His fellow rookie, Lee, is more of an undersized burner at 6'0. Lastly, Hurns stands a lengthy 6'3 but lacks the size of Robinson at just 194 lbs and while he burst onto the scene early against Philadelphia, hasn't really shown much since and dropped a key touchdown against Washington in Week 2.
Down 30-0, the Jaguars handed the keys over to rookie Blake Bortles, who immediately slung the ball all over the field recklessly in his first outing. Robinson was one of his go-to guys early on, as Bortles took two deep shots at Robinson early. One went for an in completion while another was intercepted.
Based on Bortles first performance, he's looking like a guy who puts a lot of trust in his arm. His bold decision making (as with most rookies) will likely lead to some mistakes as he learns the playbook, but could also result in big plays due to his ability to throw it deep. One thing's for sure, he likes Robinson as his throws accounted for the majority of Robinson's targets.
Jacksonville faces two middle-of-the-road passing defenses in San Diego and Pittsburgh next. There will be plenty of chances for Bortles to develop a chemistry with Robinson that isn't marred by tough matchups. Between his talent, the injury to Lee and Blake I-know-I'm-a-rookie-so-I-can-make-big-throws-and-blame-my-interceptions-on-inexperience Bortles, that elusive touchdown is coming for Robinson. He should be owned across all leagues. As Lloyd told Harry when they approached those folk-singing hitchhikers in their sheep dog van, 'pick em up!'
View Clint Mickel's flickr page here
Check out Jerry Ting's Flickr photo page here.
Marqise Lee WR/Jacksonville Jaguars (Owned in 11.5% of ESPN Leagues)
Lee showed that Blake Bortles is not the only rookie down in Jacksonville that should be getting some attention. Lee closed out the preseason in style, hauling in a 57-yard touchdown pass from Bortles. While I take preseason stats with a grain of salt due to the vanilla-style of defense, Lee showed that he is going to be one of the leading targets for the Jaguars’ quarterbacks.
Lee got off to a slow start in the preseason, drawing sour remarks from head coach Gus Bradley concerning his effort on plays that were not designed for him. However, Lee bounced back and finished with a total of 8 receptions for 94 yards. While the stats may not be as flashy as teammate Allen Hurns (who we’ll discuss later), Lee showed to be a consistent target and big play ability (23.7 YPC) during the preseason.
With fellow draft pick Allen Robinson and incumbent starter Cecil Shorts battling hamstring injuries, there is a real opportunity for Lee to lead the Jaguars in receiving this season. Lee currently holds the value of a WR4/5 but has the room to develop into a WR3/Flex option if the Jaguars offense shows continuity.
Tim Wright TE/New England Patriots (Owned 16.0% ESPN Leagues)
When the news broke about a trade sending the Tampa Bay tight end and a 2014 4th-round pick to New England for Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins, I question the motivation behind the move. However, upon further review this deal looks to have worked out for both teams.
Since the arrest of former tight end Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots have been looking for someone who could fill the “move” tight end position that was left vacant. They tried preseason darling Zach Sudfeld last season, and reportedly even considered trying out free agent signee Brandon LaFell at the position this year. After acquiring Wright, the hope is that the search has been completed.
After signing with the Bucaneers as a UDFA in 2013, Wright went on to have a productive rookie season finishing with a 54/571/5 split. Wright is a huge mismatch for linebackers in coverage, operating the intermediate area of the field very well. Even though Rob Gronkowski is going to see the bulk of the targets, the Patriots have shown in the past that there are plenty of targets to go around with Tom Brady under center. Wright is no more than a low TE2 at the moment, but if he can show that the ability to learn the playbook, he could establish himself as a sleeper candidate this season.
Devonta Freeman RB/Atlanta Falcons (Owned in 40.8% ESPN Leagues)
Although starting running back Steven Jackson returned to practice this week, I am wary of any running back that is already battling hamstring injuries at this point in the season. In his absence, Devonta Freeman was given the opportunity to show what he could do, and flashed potential in a big way.
Freeman is currently listed 4th on the Falcons depth chart behind COP backs Antone Smith and Jacquizz Rodgers. Although Freeman has some climbing to do, his talent is far superior to the players in front of him. Freeman averaged 4.2 YPC during the preseason, and showed to be a reliable target out of the backfield totaling 11 catches during the course of the preseason.
Freeman is buried a little bit on the depth chart, but with Jackson’s questionable health, and the lack of real talent in front of him, Freeman should see his carries and playing time increase. While you probably cannot count on Freeman consistently at the moment, he is well worth the stash as a RB 4/5.
Andrew Hawkins WR/Cleveland Browns (Owned in 13.7% ESPN Leagues)
With the yearlong suspension for wide receiver for his third violation of the leagues substance abuse policy, the Browns suddenly have a very thin receiving corps. The hope was that veteran Nate Burleson and Miles Austin could provide some solid depth. However, the Browns released Burleson earlier this week, and Miles Austin is, well, Miles Austin.
While wide receiver Andrew Hawkins is not the most house-held name, he's the only Browns receiver that offers any playmaking ability. The Browns signed the restricted free agent to a four-year/$13.6 million offer sheet this offseason, hoping the injuries that held him out of half the 2013 season are a thing of the past. In three seasons with the Bengals, Hawkins had a 86/995/4 split, and showed to be one of the best up-and-coming slot receivers in the league.
Hawkins is currently listed as the No.2 receiver for the Browns opposite Miles Austin. However, Austin does not offer much in terms of playmaking ability, and the Browns quarterbacks cannot force the ball to Jordan Cameron on every play. So if any member of the Browns receiving corps is going to have hold some fantasy value, it will be Hawkins.
Travis Kelce TE/Kansas City Chiefs (Owned in 7.8% ESPN Leagues)
Would someone on the Chiefs offense please step up and take some of the pressure off of Jamaal Charles? After touching the ball over 330 times last season, the Chiefs need to find someone to keep defenses from keying soley on the electric running back. With wide receiver Dwayne Bowe facing a one-game suspension from a marijuana arrest, there is no one on the Chiefs that strike fear in the minds of opposing defensive coordinators.
Kelce has the potential to be one of the bigger surprises this season. While I do not preseason stats too seriously, Kelce showed the ability to stretch the field vertically (17.6 YPC) and has the potential to be a reliable red-zone threat .
Kelce is not someone you can pick up and play during week one, however he's someone to keep an eye on during the first week of games. With the Chiefs lack of explosiveness at the receiver position, and Coach Andy Reid’s history of getting tight ends involved in the offense (Brent Celek 59.25 Rec/year last four seasons), Kelce could be in line for a productive season.