1) Deshaun Watson will be the No. 1 rookie QB in 2017

What Watson showed time and time again in college was his ability to win. No matter what the situation was, Watson was never stymied. With the surrounding talent in Houston of DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Lamar Miller and even the emergence of C.J. Fiedorowicz at tight end, Watson will have only Tom Savage to overcome to earn the keys to the fantasy kingdom. No other rookie QB will have either the same opportunity to start or the same level of surrounding talent and with a top 10 offensive line protecting him, Watson will have all day to throw to his playmakers and is guaranteed to rack up points with his legs too.

2) I want all of the Bucs

No one has had a happier offseason so far than Jameis Winston. His Tampa Bay Buccaneers have added even more offensive talent to an already stacked group and so Winston is poised to take the league by storm entering his third season. 2016’s WR2, Mike Evans, was joined by blue-chip deep threat Desean Jackson in free agency and first-round TE OJ Howard, one of the best tight end prospects to be drafted in the last five years. The hopeful return of Doug Martin should also bring a balance to the offense and allow Winston to take advantage of thinner secondaries. All of the above mentioned players have the potential to rank in the top 10 of their positions come the end of the season and Winston in particular seems poised for a top 5 campaign.

3) The Chargers WR corps is stacked and I don’t like it

Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Dontrelle Inman, Travis Benjamin and now rookie Mike Williams?! The Los Angeles Chargers have the deepest WR group in the NFL and it’s not even close. All five of the afore mentioned players could all conceivably rank in the top 36 wide receivers by the time the season has ended and while that seems like a good thing for fantasy, is it really?

Keenan Allen is the clear-cut best WR from this group but after him it’s just a crapshoot. The argument could be made to take any of the other four guys after him and that will cause complications during draft season. With so many mouths to feed it will be tough to predict who which guys will earn the most snaps and so there is a likelihood of some of the Chargers WRs being over-drafted.

4) Mike Williams will be under-drafted

Speaking of Chargers WRs draft positions, Williams’ draft compatriot and new Titans WR Corey Davis has been dominating the recent rookie hype and Williams appears to have fallen by the wayside. With a playing style reminiscent of Dez Bryant and Keyshawn Johnson, Williams’ redzone production potential could have big impacts in fantasy this season. With TEs Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry drawing the defensive attention in the redzone, Williams’ jump-ball mastery could quickly make him one of Philip Rivers’ favorite targets. Corey Davis is a more dynamic and versatile receiver, but don’t sleep on Mike Williams, especially when his ADP is established.

5) It’s time to say goodbye to Tajae Sharpe

It was fun while it lasted Tajae. The fantasy love affair the Titans had with Sharpe seems to have come to halt for the former 5th round pick. While he will still be a bit-part player in Tennessee this season, the addition of WR Corey Davis with the 5th overall pick in the draft clearly shows what the Titans think of Sharpe. Rishard Matthews was one of the best stories (and bargains) in fantasy last season and so the combination of Davis and Matthews is likely to steal most of Marcus Mariota’s passes away from Sharpe. Delanie Walker had a breakout season at TE in 2016 also and his role is likely to be expanded again in 2017. Even DeMarco Murray got in on the pass-catching party last year and will turn some of Sharpe’s targets his way. All in all, the Titans offense looks ready to roll in fantasy in 2017. Sadly for Tajae Sharpe, it appears he won’t be a major cog in the process.

6) Jeremy Hill…you’ve been put on notice, sir

No matter what your stance is on Joe Mixon, he is undeniably talented and if things had turned out differently he may have even been a top 10 pick. For the Cincinnati Bengals this is great value. For Jeremy Hill this is bad news. Hill has battled injuries and simply poor play over the last few seasons and now appears to be a shade of the running-back he flashed glimpses of early in his career. Giovanni Bernard restricts Hill’s use in the passing game and Mixon is better than Hill in every facet of the game. While he still has the potential to overcome this, Hill’s role will likely be reduced down to a glorified goal-line back in Cincinnati this season and he may be in the market for a new home in 2018.

7) The 2017 Bengals are a souped-up version of the Houston Texans

As mentioned above, the addition of Joe Mixon and also John Ross, the speedster WR, to the Bengals this offseason adds even more talent to a team with offensive skill position pro-bowlers coming out of their ears. Their offensive roster is somewhat reminiscent of the Houston Texans roster in 2016. AJ Green is a top 3 wide receiver and will draw coverage away from John Ross who will be able to take advantage of open fields with his speed. This complementary receiving duo calls to mind that of DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, a relationship that operates in a very similar dynamic. A versatile, pass-catching running-back in Joe Mixon serves as a more explosive Lamar Miller and when healthy Tyler Eifert is a top 3 TE in the NFL, greatly outperforming CJ Fiedorowicz. With all that talent the 2017 Bengals could be a fantasy goldmine. Yet as we witnessed with the 2016 Houston Texans, the absence of a passable QB can render this talent useless. Your move, Andy Dalton.

8) Christian McCaffrey should be a top 10 PPR draft pick

Fitting that the 8th thought focus on the 8th overall pick and new Carolina Panthers RB, Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey’s outstanding receiving capabilities for a running-back are of such standing that it is quite possible he will play more snaps at receiver than at running-back during his rookie season. His natural ability for catching the football and unparalleled after-the-catch ability will make him a superstar in PPR formats. With the all-round game and athleticism of David Johnson, McCaffrey’s talent far outweighs the risk of taking him high in the draft and positioned on a Panthers offense ready to rebound in 2017, it is likely McCaffrey will be a front-runner for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

9) The time has come to accept TE as the new committee position

Fantasy owners have always been scorned by the dreaded running-back by committee approach. Fun, exciting prospects can have their fantasy potential swiped away due to a division of the volume, rendering both players effectively useless for fantasy purposes. Sadly, it appears that this virus has spread from running-backs to tight ends. Committee approaches make sense for teams with no depth at the position but it seems even teams with good quality TEs are still employing this tactic. Washington is homed to star tight end Jordan Reed yet due to injuries journeyman Vernon Davis now receives significant snaps. The Chargers have recently supplemented Antonio Gates with Hunter Henry and while Rob Gronkowski may be the best tight end of all time, injuries have forced the Patriots into providing back-up for him in the form of Dwayne Allen. The realisation of the spread of TE committees around the league makes Greg Olsen’s career and fantasy production even more impressive.

10) Carson Wentz will be the biggest bargain of 2017

Carson Wentz was not set up to succeed in his first year in Philadelphia, being surrounded by arguably the worst WR corps in the NFL. However, the offseason additions of Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith will allow Wentz to take chances and show-case his arm talent due to the big-play nature of their games. A solidified offensive line and a deep running-back committee (*sighs*) will keep the pressure off Wentz and allow him to scan the field and rack up huge numbers. The second year jump of Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota last year raised both of those players to fantasy stardom and there is no reason to assume the same won’t happen to Wentz. With a current ADP of the 11th/12th round and the potential for a top 10 fantasy QB season, Wentz could potentially be the Matt Ryan of 2017.

Thank you for reading, follow Will Pendleton on twitter @willpendosports

Published in Fantasy Coverage
Sunday, 19 February 2017 00:00

Rookie Profile: Deshaun Watson

Player: Deshaun Watson - QB, Clemson

Comparison: Ryan Tannehill

Best Fit: Buffalo Bills

If the Bills don’t sort out their contract situation with Tyrod Taylor, they would be wise to draft a quarterback early and preferably Watson. Watson’s arm strength paired with his deep ball touch and his rushing ability are reminiscent of Tyrod Taylor’s and would suit this Bills offense perfectly. With a solid offensive line, a stud No.1 wide receiver in Sammy Watkins and one of the best running backs in the league in Lesean McCoy, Buffalo’s offense is tailor-made for a rookie QB. Watson would be protected and have less pressure on his shoulders due to their rushing prowess, allowing the offense to move. This was the formula the Dallas Cowboys used to make Dak Prescott the Offensive Rookie of the Year and one that will be modelled by many teams in the near future. Watson had great success in college with a stud receiver in Mike Williams and this would give both Watson and Sammy Watkins great fantasy value while likely increasing Lesean McCoy’s workload also.

Scouting Report

Deshaun Watson could not have chosen a better time to turn in some of his greatest collegiate performances. The Clemson quarterback has decided to enter the 2017 NFL Draft and his stock has never been higher, coming off a championship season.

When analysing Watson through a wide lens it is clear to see that he cuts the figure of a modern quarterback. Measuring in at 6’2’’ and 207 lbs, Watson is the smallest of the ‘Big 3’ quarterbacks of this class (including Mitch Trubisky and Deshone Kizer) yet Watson plays bigger and taller than that on tape, standing tall in the pocket in the face of pressure while having the ability to extend plays with his feet. Watson also has a much more extensive college résumé than his other two counterparts. Watson has plenty of experience from being a multi-year starter and with two National Championship game appearances in which he had stellar play, it is safe to say he shows up on the biggest stage.

Being on such a successful team, Watson has played countless ranked, talented teams and more often than not come out on top. Pro-ready or not, Watson has a knack for winning and has the game-winning drives to prove it. These intangibles should not be overlooked as a quarterback’s job at any level of football is to be the coolest guy on the field. When the moment is its biggest Deshaun Watson has showed plenty of times that he can be the guy.

The most impressive thing about Watson is while he has a big arm, every throw seems to have some touch on it. No matter whether it is a deep ball or screen, his range never suffers because of it and every pass is therefore more catchable and tougher to be intercepted as Watson’s touch allows him to place every throw. Watson still has the power to drive balls when needed but unlike last year’s draft prospect Carson Wentz, not every pass has a flat arc.

However, although this touch is impressive, at times it is also inconsistent. Watson’s interception total could have been a lot higher, especially in the red zone, this season as he sometimes struggles with under and overthrows. Overthrows aren’t necessarily too big of an issue, Marcus Mariota, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz all struggled with overthrows in college too and the result is often only an incompletion. Underthrows however are deadly as underthrown balls allow stacked cornerbacks, under-cutting safeties and spying linebackers to all add to their interception total.

Often after an interception from an underthrown ball, Watson would then appear spooked for a few plays and tended to force passes. A combination of wanting to make up for his mistake and a strong pass rush made Watson trigger happy and frantically eager to make a play. This season most of his forced passes broke his way, but the law of averages suggests that that will even out if it continues.

As a lighter guy, Watson is able to utilise his legs much more effectively than either Kizer or Trubisky and this is one of his most proficient talents. Watson ran the QB read impeccably at Clemson and his quick twitch athleticism meant he would be 6 yards downfield before the defense even knew he had kept the ball. This athleticism shows up time and time again on film as he demonstrates his elusiveness and a knack for escaping pressure, leading to very few sacks being taken.

Watson sometimes relies on his quick feet in the pocket a little too much however and so his footwork in the pocket could use some work. His speed and quickness often made up for his sluggish pocket footwork but in the NFL this will need to be tightened up as teams will likely set the edge and force him to throw from the pocket to negate his rushing ability.

One big concern with Watson is his failure to identify trick coverages and walk straight into defensive traps. This became more of an issue against more accomplished defenses and is very apparent in his match-up against Florida State. For a quarterback with so much game experience it is concerning that Watson fails to identify spy and robber coverages and so when he stares down a receiver (which he has a tendency to do when holding onto the ball for too long), safeties are able to read his eyes and undercut his passes for interceptions.

However, the majority of the time (due to the nature of the offense) Watson made quick reads and his quick release and arm strength allowed him to negate pass rushers and prevented him from holding onto the ball and staring down receivers and he was able to drive his offense down the field remarkably quickly.

Wherever he lands in the draft Watson is unlikely to be instantly named the day one starter and he will either have to compete with veterans or simply be red-shirted. However, I think it is likely if he goes to a team with quarterback needs and is not taken as a project to sit and observe for a few seasons in say Pittsburgh or Kansas City, Watson is likely to play at some point during his rookie campaign.

Thank you for reading, follow Will on twitter @willpendosports

Published in Waiver Wire
Wednesday, 07 January 2015 00:00

What happened in 2014: Sammy Watkins

Sammy Watkins delivered for those who took the risk and went against the age-old notion that rookie receivers rarely produce quality numbers. But despite a respectable 65/982/6 line, there were several factors that prevented him from having one of the best seasons for a rookie wide receiver in recent memory.

When it comes to redrafting Watkins onto your team next season, there are already several wheels in motion that will affect his value for 2015.

In what could end up going down in history as one of the greatest wide receiver drafts of all time, rookie WRs Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin all finished with over 1,000 receiving yards in their first year. All three receivers were first round talents, but  they weren't the ones who drew the biggest hype.

That distinction belonged to Watkins, a 6'1 phenom who possessed blazing 4.34 speed and considerable size at 211 lbs. He had all the playmaking tools you want out of a franchise receiver. Watkins ended up being the first receiver taken off the board at No. 4 overall by the Buffalo Bills, a team that endured a big risk to get him after they surrenderd a 2015 first and fourth round pick to move up from the No. 9 spot.

Unfortunately for Watkins, being taken that high in the draft usually means the team you play for is still a ways away from being any good, and that was definitely the case with the Buffalo offense. Watkins landed on a team that had a young, unproven quarterback in E.J. Manuel, an offense geared more toward the run without a premier running back to take the pressure off the receivers and to top it all off, a below average offensive line that put increased pressure on quarterbacks.

But even with the obstacles that came with being on a sub par team, Watkins set record team rookie marks in receptions (65) and receiving yards (982) and also netted six touchdowns. Those numbers are impressive for any rookie receiver, but you can't help but feel like you missed out on the Beckham Jr./Evans party considering both receivers had double the touchdown total of Watkins when all was said and done. Those one-handed preseason catches were probably enough to sway a lot of fantasy football players to draft him though, so it's understandable. I mean, look at this.

But even though he managed to string together a decent rookie year, it does leave the question. With so much uncertainty in Buffalo right now thanks a departed quarterback in Kyle Orton and a new coaching staff that favors the run over the pass, is Watkins the last receiver you would take in your fantasy draft this season among Beckham Jr., Benjamin, Evans and maybe even Brandin Cooks?

Leaving touchdowns on the table early

When the Bills drafted Watkins, it was a move designed specifically to get the developing Manuel some help. Manuel struggled early on during his rookie season, and eventually suffered a knee njury which led to him only playing in 10 games.

Watkins and Manuel didn't exactly light the world on fire in the beginning of 2014, but they didn't flounder either. Watkins eclipsed 100 yards receiving in just his second game of the season, catching eight passes for 117 yards and a touchdown against Miami in what was perhaps Manuel's best game of the season.

But if you watched that Miami game and had Watkins on your fantasy team, you couldn't help but be a little frustrated. Manuel missed Watkins on what would've been a sure touchdown to a wide open Watkins down the seam. Manuel also failed the punch the ball in when the Bills' defense frequently gave his offense fantastic field position and settled for three Dan Carpenter field goals instead. Manuel even had the ball on the 20 yard line after the Bills blocked a punt and still couldn't find a way to get a score. It wasn't so much that Manuel played bad, he just didn't thrive like you would've expected.

Sidenote: Buffalo finished 30th in red zone efficiency on the season, scoring just 43% of the time which stifled Watkins' ability to score the all important touchdown consistently. He finished with just six touchdowns in his first season and if the Bills can find a quarterback who can consistently score in the red zone, then those numbers will obviously go up. It's not out of the question that Watkins could be in line for a 1,500 yard, 12-plus touchdown season if the Bills can get the right guy under center. That of course, is a big if because of the following.

Manuel's benching, enter Kyle Orton

After Manuel's completion percentage took a considerable dip in losses to San Diego and Houston, the coaches soon lost faith that he was their guy and signed veteran game manager Kyle Orton to take center.

Orton was thrust into the starting role after only starting one game a season ago in the Dallas Cowboys' season finale against Philadelphia. Orton and the Cowboys lost that game, but the veteran did put up a 358 passing yards to go along with two touchdowns. He seemed like he was a better fit to help move the offense down the field and therefore increase Watkins' fantasy value.

Watkins takes off

When Orton was offcially named the starter against Detroit, the Bills instantly became an offense more capable putting up bigger passing stats which led to Watkins having some of his best games as a rookie.

While it took a few games for Watkins to develop chemistry with Orton, Watkins flourished midway through the season in Weeks 7 and 8. He torched the Minnesota Vikings for 122 yards and two scores, which was the first and only multiple touchdown game he had all season.

A week later against a bad New York Jets secondary in Week 8, Watkins got behind the defense consistently and finished with three catches for 157 yards and a touchdown. However, he showboated too early on a long pass he caught in the first half which resulted in him getting dragged down from behind at the ten yard line by a hustling Darrin Walls. Chalk it up as a rookie mistake, but it was just another touchdown left on the table for Watkins.

Despite a few lapses in focus, the two-game stretch of nearly 400 receiving yards was incredibly impressive and offered those a glimpse at just how dominant Watkins can be with a couple of good matchups and a quarterback who's playing well.

Injuries/drop in numbers

Despite a quick spike numbers midway through the season, Watkins and the Bills offense quickly fell back to earth almost immediately after their dominating 43-23 win against the Jets. Watkins failed to catch for more than 35 receiving yards over the next four games, eventually injuring his hip against the Browns which was one of several nagging injuries that plagued his rookie campaign. Watkins had already been slowed by several other ailments including broken ribs earlier in the season.

He did manage one more 100 yard game against the Denver Broncos in December, which served as his final exclamation point performance of 2014. But he was held largely in check against Green Bay (1 catch for 6 yards) and Darrelle Revis against New England (3 catches for 57 yards) in the final games of the season.

Orton slowly regressed as the season went along as well, posting a 6:7 TD-to-INT ratio in his last five outings. Overall, Watkins finished the season with 128 targets, which ranked 23rd in the league. He finished with a 51 percent catch rate according to Football Outsiders, which was lower than Beckham Jr's incredible 70 percent and Evans' 55 percent. A very good season overall though.

Offensive line issues

Not helping Watkins and the Bills offense was the fact that their offensive line struggled most of the season, especially early on at the guard spot which led to them being ranked among the worst offensive lines in the league for the first quarter of the season. Still, the offensive line did get better as the season went along, which led to them eventually being ranked 19th overall in pass protection according to Football Outsiders. Not terrible, but definitely some room for improvement there.

Marrone's surprise departure

Former Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone expressed in regards to Buffalo's trading up in the 2014 draft to snag phenom wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

Even if you put on your hindsight 20/20 spectacles for a minute, it's still hard to understand Marrone's concern with the move. Watkins turned out to be a very solid rookie and the Bills nearly the made the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. If anything, it was the reach for Manuel in the first round that set the Bills back. It'll be interesting to see if Manuel is given a second chance under the new coaching staff and we see a Jim Harbaugh/Alex Smith-like resurgence.

The hiring of Rex Ryan

Per Yahoo! sports, recently fired New York Jets coach Rex Ryan became the new head coach in Buffalo earlier this week, and former San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman is expected to take over the offense.

We have a pretty good idea of who Ryan is as a coach at this point. He's a defensive guru who took two Jets teams to back-to-back AFC Championships in 2009 and 2010. Ryan's winning formula often emphasizes pounding the ball up the gut with running backs while relying on a strong defense. The downside to his style is he often keeps the quarterback under wraps and doesn't like to take big risks down field, which can lead to little reward for offensive playmakers.

What the new coaches mean for Watkins' fantasy value

It's Ryan's ground and pound style that makes an OC like Roman a good fit for the overall coaching staff since they share the same offensive philosophies, but it might hurt Watkins if they don't adapt. Roman spent the last four seasons running a run heavy offense in San Francisco that had a great offensive line and a workhorse running back in Frank Gore.

The Bills have neither of those right now. Their main strength is at wide receiver with Robert Woods and Watkins. It'll be interesting to see if Roman is a good fit for Buffalo, but he'll likely have to adjust a bit and look to get the receivers more involved than he did in San Francisco if we expect Watkins to have a WR1-type fantasy year.

With Orton announcing his retirement earlier in the week, it's obvious Watkins' ADP for 2015 will mostly hinge on the talent of the guy under center as well.

Final verdict/2015 outlook

Watkins flashed some brilliance with his dazzling one-handed grabs during the preseason and his numbers took off like a rocket over a two-game stretch midway through the season but he left a little to be desired considering his talent is off the charts.

Consistency will likely be his next goal, as injuries, poor quarterback play, a few mental lapses on his part and an average offensive line played a role in keeping his numbers from reaching those of Evans and Beckham Jr.

It's only been one season, but Watkins certainly doesn't look like a bust, so drafting him in fantasy a solid WR2/3 is the best option at this point. A lot can change in the offseason, and if the Bills have a lot of questions they'll have to answer with a new coaching staff and a hole at the quarterback position.

View Zennie Abraham's Flickr page here.

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