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
Comparison: Cam Newton
Best Fit: Houston Texans
The Texans are an incredibly talented team, on both sides of the ball, and have one of the best coaching staffs in the league. Bill O’Brien, a proven quarterback guru, (who has won games with Brock Osweiler, Tom Savage, Brandon Weedon, T.J. Yates, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett) would be the best coach to fix Mahomes’ mechanical issues and place him in a position to succeed.
Mahomes is at his best when he plays freely and O’Brien would instil confidence in him, allowing him to do what he does best. Behind a solid offensive line, and in theory a solid running game, Mahomes and his huge arm could utilise one of the most explosive and dynamic receiving corps in the league with DeAndre Hopkins, second year burner Will Fuller and an all-world athlete in Braxton Miller. This Texans offense could in theory be reminiscent of an air-raid Texas Tech offense, built on big passing plays and high-flying, high-scoring offense. With all of the blue-chip pieces the Texans have in place on offense, fantasy owners everywhere would be desperate to see a situation like this happen and bring fantasy relevance back to Houston.
Mahomes presents himself as one of the more intriguing players in the entire 2017 draft. From a glance at a far he certainly appears to be a special player. With one of the biggest arms in recent memory, Mahomes has put up huge numbers (as is the trend for Texas Tech quarterbacks) in the Kliff Kingsbury offense over the past two years while in the starting role and has a highlight reel to rival any and all. However, on closer inspection many mechanical flaws can be identified with Mahomes’ throwing motion and footwork in particular and herein lies the division of opinions on his draft stock.
Mahomes fans will state that his production speaks for itself and this cannot be argued with. 5,052 yards, 53 total touchdowns and only 10 interceptions in only 12 games is outstanding production undoubtedly. However, much like another Big 12 team in Baylor, Texas Tech’s offensive system is geared towards producing video-game statistics and not towards preparing players for pro-style offenses. Ex-Baylor and New York Jets quarterback Bryce Petty also had gaudy numbers at the collegiate level yet that has failed to translate in the NFL. Detractors of Mahomes will also cite a total of 27 sacks taken in 2016 also. Mahomes may be 6’3’’ and 230 lbs, yet no rookie quarterback can sustain that kind of beating in the NFL.
The biggest flaw of Mahomes however is his mechanics. His rare arm talent allowed him to overcome this at the college level yet NFL defenses are faster, stronger and more complicated. Poor mechanics breed bad throws and bad throws often result in interceptions. Mahomes rarely sets his feet or steps into throws and so loses both extra power and accuracy. His unstable base throws off his upper body mechanics too meaning that his shoulders are never flat at release, a trait that results in looping, easily intercepted passes.
Mahomes cleaned up his footwork at the NFL Combine last week yet anyone can appear fleet-footed when there is no real opposition. Mechanical fixes are a lengthy process and are only proven when quarterbacks are put under pressure. Mahomes and his future NFL team could follow the Cam Newton and Carolina Panthers model in order to develop him as a player. Newton struggled with similar mechanical flaws to Mahomes coming out of college, relying on his arm over his mechanics and while he had minor success in his first few seasons it was not until Newton spent a full offseason fixing his mechanics that we saw his full MVP level potential.
As the raw prospect he is now, Mahomes would be much better suited to becoming a back-up and sitting behind a veteran while he develops. This model allowed Aaron Rodgers to sit and observe Brett Favre in Green Bay while fixing his own mechanical issues. However, it is very believable that if Mahomes was forced into the starting line-up due to an injury that he could have surprising success. His knack for making ‘wow’, big threat plays could very easily steer a team to a small string of victories however if placed in the spotlight for too long it is easy to see defenses figuring out ways to stop Mahomes. If this was to happen it may be worth taking a shot on Mahomes in your line-up for a few weeks. There is no reward without risk.
Follow Will on twitter @willpendosports
Editor's note: Our bullet point articles are written to better explain our weekly rankings, which you can find here.
Week 13 is like...totally...one of the most important weeks of the year for fantasy owners. All the players who compelled you to draft them are finally going to make or break your season. Some of you will leave footmarks on your ceiling ten feet high as Week 13 concludes, while others will be left dismayed and swear off fantasy football forever only to return like a coke addict the following year.
The running back picture this week is an interesting one. There are several mid-level backs with tough matchups. Take Isaiah Crowell for example, a guy who Casey Bass covered in his Sleepers/Busts piece this week. Crowell is driving a lot of fantasy owners crazy since he's talented but not exactly matchup proof. Well, he's got a tough matchup against Buffalo and is one of our toughest calls this week. Here's a few more notable running backs and their situations for one of the biggest weeks in fantasy football.
Start of the week
Arian Foster at Tennessee — #5 in weekly rankings
Foster owners can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that his groin injury won't sideline him for Sunday's matchup against Tennessee.
Foster owners should also be also be giddy like a bull who just saw red. Just three weeks ago in Houston's first matchup with Tennessee, Foster torched the Titans to the tune of 151 rushing yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns while also adding a receiving touchdown and four catches for 22 yards. It was one of his most dominating performances of the year and it's not out of the question he repeats the feat. The Titans rank dead last in rushing yards allowed per game (145.2) and have surrendered 13 rushing touchdowns.
The Texans will also return former starter Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback after losing Ryan Mallett for the season. More of a check-down QB than Mallet, Foster should benefit on short passes from Fitzmagic in the screen game and on wheel routes. There's a lot to like about this matchup, and Foster should have a monster game.
Denard Robinson at New York Giants— #17 in weekly rankings
The once-ferocious front seven of the New York Giants that doesn't get enough credit in helping Big Blue win two Super Bowls seems to be a thing of the past. The Giants rank second to last in rushing yards allowed (142 per game) and have given up 13 rushing touchdowns, which ranks second to last as well.
Robinson is coming off his worst game of the season against Indianapolis, where he rushed for 25 yards on 14 carries (1.8 YPC). The Colts did a good job bottling him up, plus Toby Gerhart was used on some screens which limited Robinson's value a bit. Still, his 14 carries is a sizeable enough workload and he managed to make up for his lack of production in the run game with four catches for 47 yards.
Robinson could be in for one of his best weeks of the season. The Jaguars defense has been playing well and if they continue to pressure the quarterback like they did Andrew Luck last week, expect this week's game to swing Jacksonville's way.
Alfred Morris at Indianapolis — # 7 in weekly rankings
We ranked Morris high with the assumption that Robert Griffin III would still be playing quarterback. Well, that's not the case anymore.
The Redskins surprised many when they announced RG3 would be benched in favor of third stringer Colt McCoy earlier this week. While McCoy has played well as a spot starter for the Redskins, Alfred Morris has always been more effective on zone read plays due to the threat of an RG3 taking off for a big run. McCoy doesn't possess that same athleticism at the QB spot, so defenses won't have to deal with that annoying 'wait and see which is guy is going to run' dilemma which should help them key in on Morris more.
Here's a quick breakdown of Morris with and without RG3:
Morris with RG3 (last 3 games): 313 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns, five catches, 58 receiving yards
Morris without RG3 (last 3 games before RG3's return): 168 rushing yards, one touchdown, two catches for 12 yards.
This really is a great matchup for the Colts overall as well. Physical corners in Vontae Davis will be trouble for smaller receivers like DeSean Jackson, plus McCoy's weaker arm will be limit Jackson's ability in the deep game and allow the Colts to stack the box even more to stop Morris. Morris is still a worthy starter, but you may want to consider benching him for another option if you can.
Bishop Sankey @ Houston — #14 in weekly rankings
Sankey isn't the most explosive running back, but the matchup with Houston is now a bit more intriguing since the Texans will again be without Jadeveon Clowney. But even with Clowney out, Sankey hasn't proven to be much more than a weak flex option this season. He rushed for just 39 yards the last time these two teams played (and that was without Clowney as well) and he's rushed for more than 3.9 yard per carry in just three times this season.
Don't start him but hang on to him
Latavius Murray (out) at St. Louis — #10 in weekly rankings
We talked about Latavius Murray on our 'firm acts of conviction' podcast back in the preseason. Just fast forward to the 07:05 mark and check out our reasoning and you'll realize everything we said is coming to fruition. I know it's annoying to click on a link and fast forward it yourself! But unfortunately this web site isn't Grantland and I haven't figured out how Bill Simmoms does those links where I can send you to exactly that 07:05 spot within the link itself. But just do it anyway, it's a great flashback moment.
Anyway, if you watch him on film, you forget that this guy is actually 6'3, 225 lbs until you see him running along side a defensive back in the open field. You just don't see running backs of his size very often. Not since Brandon Jacobs (who was 6'4) have we seen a running back as tall as Murray with that kind of speed.
Unfortunately, Murray failed his final concussion test and won't be playing against the St. Louis Rams today. Instead, you'll have to deal with Darren 'fall down every time the offensive line doesn't give me a huge hole' McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew. None of those running backs are startable in 12-team leagues. Murray will be a great flex option in Week 14 against the 49ers, a team that has been off and on when stopping the run this season.
Our bullet point articles are written to help better explain our weekly rankings, which you can find here.
Start of the Week
DeAndre Hopkins v. Tennessee Titans #20 Weekly Rankings
Hopkins owners were probably starting to get a little bit nervous about the talented second year wide receiver, but this is the week I expect him to bounce back. After a torn pectoral muscle landed Ryan Mallett on injured reserve, the Texans offense will once again turn to Ryan Fitzpatrick and his beard to run the show.
While the move back to Fitzpatrick likely means a frustrated Andre Johnson, Hopkins could once again have a chance to show off his big-play ability in the Texans offense. In weeks 1-10 when Fitzpatrick was the Texans' starting quarterback, Hopkins was featured as the vertical threat, leading the team in yards-per-reception with 16.3 compared to just 13.2 when Mallett was under center. Hopkins was also more of a scoring threat, catching all four of his touchdowns on the year when Fitzpatrick started. When Mallett took over, a lot of people assumed that because of his big arm, it would immediately translate over to game play, but both Hopkins and Johnson saw their average yards per reception drop when Mallett was starting.
What a better way to bounce back from a mild slump in terms of fantasy production than a matchup with the Titans' woeful secondary. With Andre Johnson dealing with Jason McCourty all afternoon, I expect Hopkins to be featured more heavily in the game plan. Hopkins will presumably line up against third-year cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who Pro Football Focus has rated as the third-worst cornerback in the NFL(-10.4). PFF also ranks Wreh-Wilson in the top-10 in terms of receiving touchdowns allowed (5). Wreh-Wilson missed week 12 due to a back injury, and his replacement Coty Sensabaugh was no more effective, allowing 8 receptions for 81 yards against the Eagles. As you can see, regardless of who lines up as the Titans' other starting corner opposite Jason McCourty, they're susceptible to above average fantasy days. Start Hopkins with confidence this week.
Jarvis Landry v. New York Jets #27 Weekly Rankings
After carving up short/intermediate area of the field against the Broncos to a line of 7/50/2, Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry was a hot commodity on the waiver wire this week. Now after posting four touchdowns in his last four games, Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins' offense gets the pleasure of matching up against the traveling circus that is the New York Jets.
In the last four weeks, Landry has established himself as Tannehill’s safety blanket, catching 82% of the 29 targets thrown his way over the last four weeks. In addition to leading the Dolphins in targets, over the last four weeks Landry is leading the team in receptions (24), receiving yards (192) and touchdowns (4). With Tannehill continuing to struggle to drive the ball down field, Landry’s value will continue to grow within the Dolphins offense. All but 9 of Landry’s targets have been within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, so as long as Tannehill continues to struggle with his deep ball (PFF’s 25th rated QB Deep Ball Accuracy) Landry should continue to be the primary target in the Bill Lazor’s offense.
Charles Johnson v. Carolina Panthers #30 Weekly Rankings
It's hard to imagine a player that has only been with a team since week 5 can come in and establish himself as the team’s top receiving option, but that's exactly what Vikings’ wide receiver Charles Johnson after being signed off the Browns practice squad before week four.
After leading playing 67 of the team’s 69 snaps in week 12 and leading the Vikings leading receiver, Charles Johnson has established himself as the No. 1 receving option in the Vikings offense. After seeing a total of 12 targets in the previous four games in which he saw action, Johnson has seen 17 in the last two weeks.
Now going up against one of the worst secondary units in the NFL, Johnson has a chance to have another big afternoon. Pro Football Focus ranks the Panthers secondary as fifth worst ranked unit in term’s of pass coverage (-35.0). The Panther’s defense has not been any better from a fantasy standpoint either, as they are giving up the 6th most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers on a weekly basis.
One more little tid-bit for fantasy owners looking for potential sleeper option; both of the Panthers' starting cornerbacks, Antoine Cason and Melvin White, have allowed passer ratings of 116.5 and 129.5 respectively on passes thrown their way this season.
Greg Olsen v. Minnesota Vikings #6 Weekly Rankings
I am sure that when Olsen owners see his name on this list some of you want to reach through you computer screens and smack me in the face, but I think you guys need to temper your expectations for the tight end this weekend. Under the Leslie Frazier regime, the Minnesota Vikings defense was one of the worst units in the league against opposing tight ends, ranking as the second-worst unit against the position in 2013. Now with Mike Zimmer running the show in the Twin Cities, the Vikings' defense has become one of the elite units against the tight end this season.
The Minnesota Vikings defense has allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends this season. It's not like the team has played against a bunch of scrubs either, going up against the likes of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski this season. In those games against Graham and Gronkowski, neither of the two were able to top 60 receiving yards or score a touchdown against the Vikings defense.
I understand that outside of Kelvin Benjamin, Olsen is the only pass-catcher on the Panthers roster that has any fantasy relevance, but I have feeling he has a chance to be a fantasy bust this weekend. Olsen still has the workload potential to put forth a solid game, around 5/50/0 would be my prediction, but if you're looking for a guy to explode this week I do not think Olsen is your answer.