This year, like every other year, the NFL is about to receive an influx young, talented players that will have an immediate impact in the realm of fantasy football. However, if history has taught us anything it is that some of these rookies will shine (Odell Beckham Jr, Jeremy Hill, Mike Evans) and some of them will fade (Eric Ebron, Johnny Manziel, Bishop Sankey). The question is, which rookies are worth investing in, in 2015? One of these rookies worth investing in is the NCAA's leading rusher in 2014... Melvin Gordon. In his Junior season Gordon rushed 343 times for an incredible 2,587 yds and 29 TDs, leaving him with an amazing 7.5 YPC average. While of course these numbers will drop in the NFL, Gordon has proven that he has what it takes to compete at an elite level and will undoubtedly produce in the NFL, and more importantly, produce for your fantasy lineup. Talent aside, the most important factor in deciding when to draft the young RB (or any rookie) is what team he falls to. In this article we will examine not only Gordon's skill set, but also which teams he will see the most success with come 2015.
Gordon and the Boys
Entering the 2015 season, there are a handful of teams that are in need of a strong presence at the RB position, one of the most notable teams is none other than 'America's team,' the Dallas Cowboys. In 2014, the Cowboys offensive line asserted itself as one of (if not the most) dominant O-lines in the NFL. Behind that line, DeMarco Murray was able to rack up 1,845 yards and 13 TDs. Measuring in at 6'0" and 213 lbs at the NFL combine, Demarco Murray's measurables are eerily similar to Gordon's. Add that with a zone-blocking scheme that Gordon has become accustomed to during his time in Wisconsin, we could see an incredible rookie season for the former Badger. In Dallas, Gordon's major competition would be the recently signed Darren McFadden and the former 5th-round pick, Joseph Randle. However, given his injury history, it's hard to believe that the Boys would put all of their eggs in McFadden's basket. It's also hard to believe that Dallas would put their faith in Randle who has amassed only 105 carries in two seasons.
Lightning in a Bottle
Another team in need of a fresh start at running back is the San Diego Chargers. After parting ways with veteran RB Ryan Matthews, the Chargers are an enticing option for any potential running back. Although Branden Oliver showed glimpses of greatness in 2014, by the end of the season he averaged only 3.6 YPC. If Gordon were to fall to the Chargers he would be expected to immediately take the reins as the starting RB. Couple that with the 'change of pace' trait in Danny Woodhead and Gordon would be kept 'fresh' throughout the season and able to do what he does best... run the ball. Combine that with an improved offensive line (added Orlando Franklin, among others, in free agency) and Melvin Gordon could immediately become fantasy relevant in all formats.
Completing the Triple-Crown
A third team that could use a fresh RB is the Indianapolis Colts. Even with the recent acquisition of veteran RB Frank Gore, the Colts are in desperate need of a long term solution to their running back situation. After correcting their fatal mistake by dropping Trent Richardson this off season, the Colts signed the fading star of Gore to a 3-year $12 million contract. So if Gordon were to fall to the Colts come draft day, what can we expect from him next season? The answer is... not much. Like Fred Jackson, Gore just continues to be relevant in the fantasy world. If Gordon were to join the Colts, expect Gore to receive the bull's share of the carries until Gordon proves without a doubt that he is the better option. That being said, it's clear that adding Gordon would solidify their future as a dynasty offense with the three-headed monster of Luck-Hilton-Gordon.
Conclusion: Where to draft Gordon in 2015
Standing at 6'1" 215 lbs, Gordon resembles (and plays like) a bulkier Jamaal Charles. Now of course, nobody can say that Gordon is guaranteed to see the success that Charles has seen in the NFL, but looking at the numbers, it's not impossible. During the NFL combine, Charles ran a ridiculous 4.22 40-yard dash. Although Gordon could only post a 4.52 40-yard dash (still an incredibly fast time), don't think that he doesn't have the 'big play ability' that Jamaal Charles has. In the NFL, the one thing more important than being able to outrun a tackler, is being able to cut and create space between tacklers... a skill that Gordon possesses. In the underrated 20-yard shuttle drill, Gordon posted an incredible 4.07, showing off his prowess as a back capable of changing directions on a dime. Assuming Gordon goes to a team that truly needs a running back, we can expect fantasy results that could rival that of last year's leading rookie rusher, Jeremy Hill. Projected as a first round pick in the NFL draft, expect Gordon to live up to (or even exceed) the hype. Look to target Melvin Gordon in the mid rounds of the draft and expect strong RB2 numbers with possible RB1 potential.
When news of Pierre Thomas' release from the New Orleans Saints broke earlier this month, Mark Ingram's stock skyrocketed. Prospective fantasy owners were beaming at the idea that Ingram may finally become the workhorse back that we've all wanted him to be. However, all of that changed in the past week when the Saints signed veteran running back C.J. Spiller to a hefty 4-year, $18 million contract. While the Saints are clearly going to benefit from signing Spiller, fantasy owners are at a loss and it's tough to get a good read on the situation. Will Spiller be relegated to "change of pace" duties, or are we going to see another true timeshare in New Orleans? In this article we will break down the strengths and weaknesses of both players and try to make sense of this headache of a backfield.
Numbers Don't Lie...
Although the Saints most likely plan on using these two great running backs in tandem, the simple truth is that both of them perform better when the spotlight is solely on them. Last year when Mark Ingram was finally given the reins, he posted a modest, yet respectable 4.3 yards per carry average. Though not eye-popping, his 9 TD's in 13 games shows that he has what it takes to produce as a starting fantasy RB. Likewise, during C.J. Spiller's breakout 2012 campaign, he averaged an incredible 6.0 yards per carry along with 8 total TD's. Although his numbers have been less than stellar since 2012, Spiller has undoubtedly proven that he has what it takes to be a viable starting fantasy RB. Additionally, both of these young veterans have been cursed by playing behind fan-loved veterans in Pierre Thomas and Fred Jackson. Now that both are free of that burden, the numbers will decide who gets the spotlight next year.
Rushing vs. Receiving
When looking at the numbers, both Ingram and Spiller have proven to be quality running backs, each averaging 4.2 and 5.0 yards per carry throughout their careers, respectively. However, in today's NFL an RB must be multi-dimensional. The days of 25+ carries per game are over. Today, it's about making the most of what little opportunities you have, and more importantly, being a threat in the passing game. This fact becomes even more important when talking about the Saints offense, as they attempted to pass on 61.8% of all offensive plays in 2014. So what does this mean for Spiller and Ingram? The simple answer here is that Spiller dominates Ingram in the passing game. In five seasons Spiller accumulated 158 receptions for 1,195 yards and 6 TD's. Likewise, in four seasons Ingram was only able to accumulate 53 receptions for 288 yards and 0 TD's. Although Ingram was playing with Pierre Thomas, a receiving back specialist, it is clear that Spiller will be the receiving back in New Orleans' offense, further boosting his stock in PPR formats.
Outlook for 2015
So far we've come to two simple conclusions. First, both Spiller and Ingram are capable of handling starting RB responsibilities and thrive in a workhorse back setting. Second, C.J. Spiller has proven to be the superior pass catching RB, a trait necessary to thrive in the Saints offense. Unfortunately these two facts lead to the likely conclusion that Ingram will handle 1st and 2nd down duties, while Spiller will come in on 3rd down and other passing situations. Unfortunately this means the worst for fantasy owners as neither Spiller nor Ingram will reach their true fantasy potential in 2015. However, there is a bright side. As both running backs have proven to be quality starters, and both have a seemingly unfortunate injury history, this combination should be looked at as one of the most valuable handcuffs going into 2015. If either Spiller or Ingram go down at some point in the season, expect the other to thrive as the sole rusher in the Saints backfield. Additionally, because Spiller is the more proven back, him taking over starting RB duties is not outside the realm of possibility. At the end of the day, against most mocks to date, I would take Spiller before Ingram come draft day (especially in PPR formats). Either way, if you decide to take either of these RBs in 2015, you had better make sure to grab the other while you can.
Throughout the 2014 season, one of the biggest stories was the immediate success of the rookie wide receiver class. Whether it was Odell Beckham’s “catch seen around the world,” or Mike Evans consistent production week in and week out, the fantasy world was buzzing over the unprecedented success of the rookie class. And it wasn’t just Beckham or Evans making headlines. In fact, for the first time ever, eight rookie wide receivers finished within the top 50 WRs on the season (almost 20%!). But can we expect this production again?
It is well known that the dreaded ‘sophomore slump’ has claimed many an NFL rising star (Michael Clayton, Mike Williams, and Zac Stacy to name a few). So what does this mean for the best WR class to date? Can we expect eye-popping numbers again, or are we doomed to fantasy peril by investing in these young stars? In this article we will examine the top rookie WRs from last season and predict whether they will rise or fall in their sophomore season.
1) Odell Beckham Jr. (5th WR Overall in Standard Scoring)
The man, the myth, the legend. The 2014 offensive rookie of the year had the greatest start to his career than any other wide receiver in history. Period. In only twelve games he caught 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 TDs. Wow! But what can we expect from the breakout rookie in 2015? It should come as no surprise that Beckham’s production was increased after the season ending injury suffered by wide out Victor Cruz. With Victor Cruz coming back next season we shouldn’t be surprised if Beckham’s targets drop a bit. However, his production may not take too much of a hit (if any at all). With Cruz back on the field defenses will have one more playmaker to keep their eyes on. And with the emergence of Rueben Randle towards the end of the season (further catching the attention of opposing defenses), OBJ will have plenty of space to work with. Additionally, with Eli Manning growing more and more accustomed to Ben McAdoo’s new offense, we should have a top 5 wide out on our hands.
Projected WR Rank: 4th Overall
2) Mike Evans (10th WR Overall in Standard Scoring)
Entering the offseason, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have many holes to fill, the most important of these being at the QB position. With the #1 pick in the 2015 draft, the Bucs are expected to take one of the top two QBs of the draft in Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. Rookie QBs are always a big question mark going into a season, but if Mike Evans was able to produce top 10 numbers with Josh McCown and Mike Glennon under center, we shouldn’t expect less with either of the two rookie QBs. As a true deep threat, Mike Evans should pair nicely with the strong arm of Jameis Winston, giving us a possible WR1 next season.
Projected WR Rank: 12th Overall
3) Kelvin Benjamin (17th WR Overall in Standard Scoring)
In his rookie season, Kelvin Benjamin utilized his size, becoming one of the greatest red zone threats in the NFL. Unfortunately for Benjamin, he’s the only receiving threat on the field, and with a less than mediocre run game, defenses need only focus on Benjamin. Additionally, the Panthers must upgrade their offensive line in order to give Benjamin time to create space and allow Cam Newton to find the open man. With the recent release of veteran RB DeAngelo Williams, the Panthers need to add some playmakers to their roster if Benjamin has any chance of repeating his solid WR2 numbers in 2015.
Projected WR Rank: 18th Overall
4) Jordan Matthews (24th WR Overall in Standard Scoring)
As the 7th WR taken in the 2014 draft, Jordan Matthews exceeded expectations by finishing as the 4th best rookie wide out and the 24th overall wide out. The simple fact about Jordan
Matthews is that Chip Kelly really likes him. In fact, he had to trade up in the draft (10th pick of the 2nd round) just to get him. With the approval of Chip Kelly, Matthews saw plenty of playing time right off the bat. However, his production fell in the middle of the season (failed to gain more than 50 receiving yards in a game between weeks 4-10). This was not Matthews fault. The fact of the matter is that the Eagles need to address their quarterback situation, and if we know anything about Chip Kelly, he’s not a afraid to make a monumental deal that would give Matthews the help that he needs.
Projected WR Rank: 22nd Overall
5) Sammy Watkins (25th WR Overall in Standard Scoring)
At the beginning of the season, it appeared as though Sammy Watkins deserved to be the first receiver taken in the 2014 draft. However, as the season progressed Watkins’ numbers were devastated by poor QB play in Buffalo. Unless the Bills can trade up in the draft and grab Winston or Mariota (probably not going to happen), it is unlikely that the Bills QB situation will improve in 2015. A natural talent, Watkins is plagued by a poor offense and poor system. Additionally, Watkins doesn’t have the speed (4.43-40) of fellow rookie Brandin Cooks (4.33-40), or the size (6’1” 205 lbs) of fellow rookie Kelvin Benjamin (6’5” 243 lbs), or the hands of fellow rookie Odell Beckham Jr. Though it is undeniable that Watkins is a natural talent, all of these factors lead us to believe that we may see a true sophomore slump from Watkins next season.
Projected WR Rank: 28th Overall
Though we’ve only covered the top five rookie wide outs from last season, the rest of the rookie class deserves recognition, and in fact some may even make a jump ahead of the 5 WRs listed above. Listed below are the projected ranks of the remaining top 13 rookie wide receivers in order of their 2014 rank:
7) Martavis Bryant* – Projected WR Rank: 32nd Overall
8) Jarvis Landry* – Projected WR Rank 35th Overall
9) Brandin Cooks* – Projected WR Rank: 26th Overall
10 Taylor Gabriel – Projected WR Rank: 70th Overall
11 Allen Robinson – Projected WR Rank: 58th Overall
12 Donte Moncrief* – Projected WR Rank: 30th Overall
13 Davante Adams* – Projected WR Rank: 42nd Overall
Potential Sleepers = *
The only thing more difficult than trying to predict where top prospects will land in the NFL draft (especially before free agency) is trying to predict how those prospects will impact the world of fantasy football. The simple fact is that there are too many variables to predict not only what teams this year's prospects will end up with, but how they will be utilized on those teams. This article will focus on the draft prospect with the least amount of those variables today: Jameis Winston.
As close to a lock as possible, almost all credible mocks have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers taking Jameis Winston with the #1 pick of the draft. With the release of veteran QB Josh McCown in February, the case for the Bucs taking Winston with the first pick was only strengthened. As the #1 pick, Winston will be expected to have an immediate impact in the Bucs offense. But what does this mean from a fantasy perspective? Can Jameis Winston adjust to the professional level and compete as a viable starting fantasy QB? In order to answer these questions we must take a look at not only Winston, but the Buccs offense as a whole.
Will Winston have the protection needed to succeed?
In 2014, the Bucs replaced four of their five starting linemen from 2013. These drastic changes did little to help the Bucs offensive woes. As a whole, the Buccs didn't fair too poorly in the running game, finishing as the 10th ranked team at run blocking. Unfortunately for Winston, the offensive line also finished as the 26th ranked unit at pass blocking. It's clear that the Bucs need to improve their offensive line if Winston has any shot of achieving fantasy relevance. Even with an offensive anchor in tackle, Demar Dotson, the Bucs will certainly look to add depth to the offensive line through free agency and the draft. One final thing to note about the Bucs offensive line is their discipline. They finished with the most penalties of any offensive line in the NFL which if continued in 2015, will almost assuredly take away some of Winston's big gains through the air.
Will Winston have the weapons needed to succeed?
The simple answer here is YES. Winston will be entering the NFL with a powerful combination of receivers in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. Mike Evans, the #2 rookie WR in 2014, finished 10th overall in standard scoring. With Winston's big arm and love for throwing the ball deep down the field, we may be witnessing the beginning of a QB/WR combo that could end up being one of the best in the NFL. In terms of the rushing game, the Bucs will hope that Doug Martin (after two years of being plagued with injuries) can repeat the success he achieved in 2012 (1454 yds, 4.6 avg). Regardless if he can or can't, the Bucs will look to add depth to their RB core this offseason, whether it is through free agency or the deep RB class in this year's draft. Finally, at the TE position, Winston will hope that sophomore TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins can live up to the hype next year. Taken in the second round, Seferian-Jenkins had high expectations after last year's draft. Unfortunately his season was plagued by injuries and we have yet to see just what this prototype TE is capable of.
Does Jameis Winston have what it takes to compete in the NFL?
When looking at Winston, there’s no doubt that the talent needed to compete at the professional level is there. As a natural pocket passer, Winston has a big arm and loves to throw the ball down the field. Additionally, his size (6’4”, 231 lbs) and his decent mobility allow him to keep plays alive and allow his receivers time to get open. When watching film, it’s clear to see that Winston knows his receivers. He consistently places the ball in a spot where only the receivers have even a chance of catching the ball. Combining that with tight spirals and a strong knowledge of the game, Winston has an excellent chance of succeeding at the professional level. Even with all of these positive attributes, there are a couple of major concerns when considering Winston as a fantasy relevant QB. One of course is his off-field issues. Fortunately, Winston has recently addressed these issues and truly impressed both scouts and coaches during his combine interviews. The other more important concern is his interceptions. During his Heisman winning season, Winston threw for 40 TDs and only 10 INTs. Those numbers drastically dropped his senior year, throwing for only 25 TDs and 18 INTs. His big arm doesn’t help him here as he more than occasionally overthrows his receivers and tries to force the ball into tight coverage. We can only hope that the Bucs coaches can help Winston to develop in the preseason and get those big-armed throws under control.
So what can we expect from Winston in 2015?
Winston has all the tools needed to succeed in 2015. As a Heisman winner, we know that the talent is there. As a top priority (especially with a rookie QB), the Bucs will definitely spend the money to improve their offensive line in the offseason. Additionally, the Bucs have a strong receiving duo in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson who both love to catch 50+ yard touchdowns, perfectly complementing Winston’s big arm. Coupling that with a healthy Doug Martin and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the Bucs could have a very strong offense next year. Comparing him to current NFL QBs, Winston reminds me a lot of Big Ben Roethlisberger. Between his size, his arm, and surprising ability to move in order to extend plays, the Bucs may have just found their franchise quarterback in Jameis Winston.
-19th QB Overall Standard Scoring
On Friday's episode of Treatment, the Helpers discuss several players who have gone on to new teams and assign new fantasy value to their respective situations. Players discussed include Andre Johnson, Jeremy Maclin, Frank Gore and Ryan Mathews. Plus Bill Walton drops. This is going to be fantastically fun.
NFL Free agency is upon us, and fantasy football value is about to shift all over the place like a bunch of tectonic plates under a fault line. With so many players moving around, there's always a lot to take in. But here are the biggest running back transactions so far and what their fantasy impact is.
Trent Richardson out, Frank Gore in
After the debacle of a trade that ended with Cleveland attaining a first-round draft pick in exchange for Richardson, the lifetime 49er is about to finally see what it's like to put on a different jersey after signing with the Indianapolis colts.. Gore turns 32 in May but the veteran back has shown remarkable consistency despite his age. He rushed for over 1,000 yards for the eighth time in his last nine seasons in 2014. Gore has also never averaged less than 4.1 yards per carry.
From an NFL standpoint, Gore made a great choice signing with Indy. It's a winning team with one of the Top 3 quarterbacks in the league. Gore will get another chance to compete to a championship in the somewhat weak AFC and the AFC South will be a cakewalk compared to the types of defenses he saw in the NFC West.
From a fantasy perspective, Gore will likely assume the role of former Colt Ahmad Bradshaw. Always an underrated receiver, Gore posted reception numbers of 61, 53, 43, and 52 from 2006-09 with San Francisco. He compiled those numbers before the run-minded Jim Harbaugh took the helm, which resulted in less passes being thrown his way.
Now that he's back on a team that passes a lot (Indy threw the ball 616 times last season which ranked 3rd highest in the league) expect Gore to see plenty of passes in the flat similar to what Bradshaw saw when he caught six receiving touchdowns over the first half of 2014. While Gore is a bit older than Bradshaw, he's also more durable, playing in all 16 games for the last four seasons.
Gore likely won't be the only back seeing snaps in the backfield, as Dan 'Boom' Herron showed some positive signs as a runner last year, but make no mistake Gore is going to be fantasy relevant as an RB2 this season.
LeSean McCoy out, Ryan Mathews, DeMarco Murray in
An injury prone back who's still in the prime of his career at 27, Mathews still has plenty of value as a running back and should see much better run blocking from the Eagles offensive line than the one he had in San Diego.
Obviously, you can't generate too much fantasy value if you're hurt, and Mathews has long been a guy who has never finished a season strong even when healthy. It's why the Chargers backed him up with so many other players (Danny Woodhead, Brandon Oliver and Donald Brown) in hopes of keeping him fresh throughout the season. But the situation is better in Philadelphia because of the offensive line. Plus, Chip Kelly's system will allow the athletic Mathews to use his conditioning to beat defenders rather than bruise through them.
As far as Murray goes, the former Cowboys running back will see plenty of runs as well in the offense. There should be enough ball to go around so that Murray and Mathews will remain fantasy relevant.
Running backs who can catch the ball are crucial for fantasy success. We mentioned Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon earlier last week as a potential underrated pass catcher. We also mentioned Miami prospect Duke Johnson as one of the more natural receivers in this year's draft. Johnson also possesses the gift of elusiveness shared by pros like LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles. Yeldon, on the other hand, is more of a steady running back who prefers to move the chains rather than break tackles and rattle off huge gains.
Both styles have their pros and cons. For example, Yeldon might not make the biggest splash in the points category from week to week, but he looks like a steady, serviceable back that can move the chains and hover around 80-100 rushing yards mark and toss in the occasional 30-35 receiving yards. This is all depending on whether or not he gets drafted to a team that wants to utilize him in that way of course.
When it comes to Johnson's weakness, his undersized frame may lend itself to the occasional zero-point performance because bigger, more physical defenses will be able to stuff him at the line of scrimmage. We saw that happen a lot with LeSean McCoy in 2014, and it led to the Eagles running back being one of the most talked about trade options in fantasy leagues throughout the year.
But what if you don't want to risk any of those things from either Yeldon or Johnson happening? Well, there's one prospect who possesses the rare combination of size, speed and catching ability that few running backs in this draft have. That guy is Boise State prospect Jay Ajayi.
Standing 6'0 and weighing 221lbs, Ajayi thrived under a pass-heavy offensive scheme and it led to him being one of the most prolific running backs in college last season. As a redshirt junior in 2014, Ajayi logged 535 receiving yards on 50 catches to go along with four receiving touchdowns.
Unlike the run-first offense Yeldon was in while at Alabama, Ajayi benefited from playing in an offense that passed the ball 415 times, which ranked 35th overall in the nation. Ajayi ranked fifth in nation in rushing yards with 1,823 (5.3 yards per attempt) but also logged 347 carries, the most in the nation. Ajayi ranked 17th overall in rushing attempts the previous year, so his durability is something you should consider if you plan on investing in him long-term.
Am I saying to avoid him as a draft pick because he carried the ball a lot in college? Absolutely not. It all depends on what your situation is. For example, if your team is one good running back away from winning a championship, Ajayi has to be in the conversation as your first-round pick depending on where he ends up in the NFL. With his ability to make big plays both in the run and pass game, there's not a lot of weaknesses in his game from a fantasy perspective. In terms of being an instant impact guy, he's one of the most NFL ready running backs there is.
He does come with some weaknesses as a football player though when you factor in his suspect pass blocking. He also tries to move laterally rather than north and south from time to time as well, but those issues shouldn't detract from his fantasy value too much.
His running style
A fighter who looks to initiate contact rather than avoid it, Ajayi actually evokes a style similar to Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. I know it's a little crazy to compare him to Lynch given how incredible Lynch has been at breaking tackles at the pro level, but Ajayi runs with the same kind of purpose that allows guys like Lynch to be so tough to bring down. Ajayi rarely shies away from defenders, and almost uses momentum from their hits to transfer into his next move. Ajayi is also a homerun hitter, as he scored touchdowns of 70+ yards in both rushing and receiving in 2014. If you're drafting Ajayi in your dynasty league, you're looking for the occasional 30-35 fantasy point performance.
Example No. 1
Here we have Ajayi catching a screen pass against Ole Miss in Boise State's first game of 2014. Notice how he doesn't get bumped off course by the Ole Miss defensive linemen when he slips out into the flat, a testament to his size and low center of gravity which will make him hard to bring down at the next level. He finished with a season-high 12 catches in this game, against a defense that ended up in the Top 15 overall in 2014.
Example No. 2
Here is a good example of Ajayi's relentless ability to stay upright. In total on this play, he breaks about four tackles, spinning and twisting his way from the 27-yard line almost to the 35. While it's impressive, you always have to wonder how this running style will translate to the next level. Often times, a running back will try too much to gain the extra yard and wind up taking a big hit or worse, fumble the football. Ajayi fumbled 11 times over his last 597 carries, which often stemmed from him trying to fight through defenders.
Example No. 3
Here we see how Ajayi's tough running style can be problematic. He shakes one defender, but then tries to bounce the ball to the outside without fully securing the ball with the other hand after making the first guy miss. It's not like his fumbling problems are a huge detractor from his overall game, it's just something that you may encounter if you draft him because he runs so hard.
There's an embarrassment of riches this season when it comes to taking a dynasty running back in fantasy leagues. Because of this, it can be tough to know which running back to go with. Obviously, the situation will play a huge role, but Ajayi is the one running back that might not need as much help from his offense to be successful. He can make guys miss on his own so he can help out his offensive line when they miss blocks. He also runs physically hard, which can help him fall forward and avoid big tackles for a loss.
On Tuesday's episode of Treatment, the Helpers discuss the NFL Combine from a fantasy perspective and focus on the rookie wide receivers and what with potentially fruitful situations. They also talk about how undersized receivers are starting to become more and more recognized as top options in NFL offenses and what traits to look for if you're thinking about drafting a steal in your dynasty draft this year.
How a smaller receiver like Antonio Brown has been successful
The Helpers mention Phillip Dorsett as a draft prospect that's undersized but has major potential in the NFL due to his speed. The idea that small receivers can't play like their bigger counterparts is becoming more and more of a myth. These two clips illustrate why Antonio Brown (who stands at 5'10) has been so successful at the pro level despite being undersized. In the first segment (and sorry if the audio clogs up the podcast, didn't know how to mute that), he keeps moving around looking for Roethlisberger after the Steelers' quarterback does what he does best — extends the play. He eventually comes back to the ball and makes about a 30-yard catch. On the second one, he attacks the ball with a defender draped all over him. These are the kind of traits to look for in a rookie receiver. Does he go after the ball? Does he constantly outwork defenders to get open even after the play has broken down?
We point out Antonio Brown as an example because as a fantasy football player, it's important to try and look for the qualities Antonio Brown exudes on the field in hopes that you can draft a player with similar skills in either your dynasty or redraft league. We're not comparing Dorsett to Brown at all, we're just showing you how Brown has been successful and are interested to see if Dorsett possesses any of those same qualities. Plus, if Dorsett further develops his game through refined route running and chemistry with his quarterback, he could be in line for fantastic stats and fantasy numbers.
The draft class as a whole/Maxx Williams' stock
If you've been following the NFL even remotely close this offseason, you've already heard all of the major talking points regarding this year's draft. The running backs are very strong while the tight ends are weak and the wide receivers are once again pretty good but probably not as good as last year's class. While the tight end class is indeed weak, Maxx Williams has a chance to get drafted by the Denver Broncos in the late first round, a team that is likely to lose its star tight end in Julius Thomas because of a clogged cap this offseason. If Thomas goes, Williams would immediately have a chance to see first-team reps and could be one of the top red zone threats in the league with quarterback Peyton Manning. Of course, nobody knows if the Broncos are going to take Williams, but Denver is maybe the one place where he would pose immediate fantasy value in redraft leagues.
Though he didn't perform at the combine due to injury, UCF wide receiver Breshad Perriman has some intrigue due to his size at 6'3. He also plays physical and averaged over 20 yards per catch and posted 9 touchdowns during his junior season with the Knights. Perriman has exceptional speed and displayed the ability to get behind defenders consistently in college. He could also make for a great option on inside routes due to his size. He does have a few flaws though and one of the major ones is his inconsistent hands. He dropped several easy passes in college and that can spell doom early on at the NFL level. We've seen very athletic, tall receivers fade quickly if they can't hang on to the football. Darrius Heyward-Bey among the most recent examples.
On Friday's episode of Treatment, the Helpers discuss what a sleeper actually is (to them) and toss out a few names who they think are intriguing for next season. It's never too early.
The Helpers start off the podcast talking about the definition of a sleeper. You see the term used on almost every fantasy football website and it comes with a variety of meanings. Some people think a sleeper is any player that nobody is talking about who stands a chance at having a good season. Others think it's a young player who hasn't fully blossomed as a pro and is about to hit his stride. Others think it's a an often-injured player who has talent but hasn't fully performed at the level he's capable of.
But no matter which way you slice it, the term 'sleeper' really means any player who is under the radar in some way, whether it be because he isn't currently starting but may stand a chance to, was injured last season but is healthy now or is young and raw but is just starting to figure out how to be consistent at the NFL level. To us, a sleeper that will perform above and beyond expectations, with the primary tool used to define his expectations being his ADP (average draft position) in fantasy drafts.
The Helpers start out by naming two of their favorite deep sleepers this offseason.
Jordan Matthews, WR (Philadelphia Eagles)
The Philadelphia Eagles are juggling a lot of potential offensive pieces right now. Jeremy Maclin, their prized wide receiver who just finished the best season of his career, will be expecting more money after his one-term deal expired. Maclin will want top receiver money and the Eagles may not want to give up that kind of dough especially with Matthews looking like he has No. 1 receiver potential and also the fact that there are other receivers out there that may not be asking for as much money. Torrey Smith out of Baltimore might be one of those examples.
Matthews finished a solid rookie campaign with 67 catches, 872 yards and 8 touchdowns. He benefited from backup quarterback Mark Sanchez taking over for the injured Nick Foles midway through 2014. More of an intermediate thrower than a deep ball quarterback, Sanchez targeted Matthews more and helped the rookie eclipse 100 yards receiving in three contests while under center.
Which brings us to the next big question for Philadelphia — the quarterback. Rumors keep circulating like a revolving door that coach Chip Kelly will do whatever it takes to land Oregon quarterback and Heisman winner Marcus Mariota in the 2015 NFL Draft. If that somehow does happen, expect Matthews' value to take a hit at least in the short term while Mariota adjusts to the NFL.
Richard Rodgers, TE (Green Bay Packers)
Another intriguing sleeper is Green Bay Packers tight end Richard Rodgers. Rodgers' rookie season was a quiet one, as he caught just 20 passes for 225 yards and 2 touchdowns. But despite his low numbers, Rodgers still has potential because he and quarterback Aaron Rodgers started to gel late in the season. Rodgers caught 5 of 5 targets for 40 in the season finale against Detroit. Two weeks later in the divisional round of the playoffs against the Dallas Cowboys, he caught the biggest pass of the game in the form of a 13-yard touchdown that A. Rodgers ripped between two defenders. Those are the kind of the clutch plays that quarterbacks remember.
Want to win a cool $1 million? Fantasy Football Helpers affiliate Draftkings.com is holding a $1 million dollar PGA Contest. That's not a typo. The winner of this contest gets $1 million. Entry fee is $20.
Player: Devin Funchess
School: University of Michigan
Position: Wide Receiver
Weight: 230 lbs
Position Rank: 5
After the first tier of wide receivers off the board there are still a lot of talented pass-catcher in the 2015 NFL draft that have the ability to develop into impact wide receivers at the NFL level. Leading off Tier II of our rankings is University of Michigan wide receiver/tight end Devin Funchess. Funchess is perhaps the most versatile wide receiver in this draft having had experience playing multiple positions, as well as showing the ability to line up at multiple places whether it be out wide, in the slot, or in-line as a tight end.
Funchess is far from a finished prospect but possesses the combination of size, speed, and athletic ability to be lethal down the field in the NFL. I do believe that Funchess could step in and make an impact during his rookie season, but I do feel he has a few holes in his game to fix if he wants to be mentioned in the same conversation as Cooper, White, and DGB.
- Massive Frame
- Ability to line up multiple positions
- Physical in open field
- Able to make plays with contact
- Hindered by terrible QB play
- Massive Catch Radius
- Solid run blocker
- Able to recognize soft spots in zone-coverage
- Impressive burst of LOS
- Immediate Red-Zone Threat
- Does not explode out of breaks
- Needs to refine route-running ability
- Inconsistent hands (fights ball)
- Will need to develop NFL route-tree
- Will struggle getting off press-coverage
- Tight end or wide receiver?
The college career of Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess is an interesting. The former 3-star recruit originally signed with the Wolverines as a tight end, and was able to make some impact during his freshman season, totaling 15 catches for 234 yards and 5 touchdowns, good enough to earn him a spot on the freshman All-America team.
As a sophomore Funchess earned a starting position opposite Jeremy Gallon and showed to be one of the premier pass-catchers in the nation, totaling a 49/748/6 line during his sophomore season proving to be a match-up nightmare for linebackers and safeties.
Despite being labeled on the depth chart as a tight end, Funchess played more of a Jimmy Graham-type role for the Wolverines, lining up in the slot, out wide, and in line as a blocker. This versatility allowed the Wolverines coordinator to scheme up ways to get Funchess matched up against slower linebackers, and smaller defensive backs.
Going into his junior season Funchess made a couple of changes to his game. The first is that he was changing positions from tight end, to now a full-time wide receiver. The second move was changing his jersey number from 87, which he had worn for his first two season, to 1, a number that is synonymous for being worn by great Michigan wide receivers (Edwards, Carter).
With these changes there was hope that Funchess would finally put his tools together and become the dominant pass catcher that the program has been looking for since Edwards graduated in 2004. Things did not exactly go to plan as the Michigan football program more closely resembled a dumpster fire than a division I football team.
Funchess finished his junior season with 62 catches for 733 yards, and 4 touchdown receptions. While Funchess did post a career high in receptions during his junior season, he was limited to a lot of quick hitting passes such as stick routes, slants, and curl routes because of the inconsistencies of the Michigan quarterbacks.
Player Comparison: Braylon Edwards
When I first turned on the Michigan tape I had to make sure that I was watching the right game, because at the naked eye you would not be able to tell a difference between the former Wolverine wide receivers.
Both players possess a massive frame, strong hands, and the speed to stretch defenses vertically. Although Edwards was the more complete receiver coming out of college, I feel that Funchess could be the better professional player.
Braylon Edwards/Devin Funchess Statistical Comparison
As you can see by the chart above Edwards was a monster during his four seasons in Ann Arbor, totaling over 1,000 receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns in three of his four seasons.
During his four years at Michigan, Edwards definitely had the advantage in terms of quarterback play. Chad Henne was a perfect college quarterback for Edwards, as he possessed the big arm and gun-slinger mentality that could take advantage of his elite athletic ability.
It was a different story for the quarterbacks that Funchess had the misfortune of playing with. The Wolverines offense was held hostage by the the atrocious quarterback play of Devin Gardner far too often. There are plenty of opportunities to make big plays down the field, but instead Gardner panics and tries to make a play with with his legs.
Even though Funchess was not able to develop the way the Michigan coaching staff had hoped during his first season at wide receiver, there was some good that came from playing with the erratic Devin Gardner. Take the video below for instance, Gardner is throwing a corner route against either Cover-3 or man-coverage. It is a little difficult to differentiate because of the slot CB playing man, while the right side of the defense seems to be playing a deep third responsibility.
With the separation that is created by Funchess on this route this should be an easy pitch and catch for a division I quarterback. However, like a lot of Gardner's throws the ball placement, accuracy, and timing on this throw are all way off, causing Funchess to have to bail his quarterback out once again.
Braylon Edwards/Devin Funchess Physical Comparison
Aside from the physical comparison, there is one more comparison to Edwards that stood out when I was doing my evaluations. Both Edwards and Funchess possess the prototypical size of a vertical receiver at the next level, but have issues catching the ball on a consistent basis. Too many times their were passes thrown his way that Funchess had to double-catch, and even dropped some relatively routine passes.
The other aspect of Funchess' game that he needs to improve on if he wants to make a major impact at the next level is his route-running ability. While Funchess possesses the athletic ability and lower body flexibility to sink into his breaks rarely does it actually happen. Instead, Funchess relies to heavily on his athletic ability to get away from defenders, or make contested catches.
Going forward there is no denying that Funchess has all the tools in the world to become a dominating receiver at the next level. However, with the issues surrounding his inconsistent hands and raw route-running ability it may take longer than expected for Funchess to make a major impact. If Funchess can develop the weaker parts of his game, he has the size, speed, and athletic ability to develop into a low-end no. 1 wide receiver for a team, and at worst a great complimentary piece.
The first aspect that will determine Funchess’ fantasy value during his rookie season will be which team drafts him, and what position the will ultimately have Funchess play. If a team decides that they would like to develop Funchess as a wide receiver I believe fantasy owners will need to be patient as they wait for consistent fantasy production.
In standard leagues I would not consider Funchess anything more than a late round flier at this point, as he will most likely make his greatest impact towards the red zone his rookie season. Standing at 6'5" and having a vertical around 38", Funchess will be a major asset in jump ball scenarios against slighter-framed defensive backs.
As far as dynasty leagues go, Funchess is currently my number five rated prospect in the upcoming draft. With his size, speed, and ability to make an impact inside the 20's I rank Funchess as a mid-first round pick in dynasty leagues. While Funchess may not step in and make the impact that Cooper, White, or DGB do, there is plenty to like about his fantasy projection in the future.
When projecting where Funchess may land in the draft, the first thing you have to do is look for which teams may have a need at the position. Due to his versatility I am going to leave the possibility that a team could select Funchess as a hybrid tight end, rather than a full-time wide receiver.
Doing a quick overview of the teams that could be targeting a tight end/wide receiver come April:
- Jacksonville - Blake Bortles struggled during his first full season as the Jaguars starting quarterback. If the Jaguars have any hope that Bortles is the future they need to surround him with talented skill-players. Marcedes Lewis has been serviceable at best during his time in Jacksonville, and Funchess could step in and be the safety net for Bortles immediately.
- Oakland - Mychal Rivera was a pleasant surprise last season, but the Raiders offense has limited talented at the wide receiver/tight end position. Funchess could step in and be the primary pass catcher of the Raiders offense, and hopefully give Carr the no. 1 wide receiver he needs going forward.
- Atlanta - Tony Gonzalez is not walking through the door anytime soon, and with Roddy White getting another year older, the Falcons could stand to add some youth to the tight end position.
- Cleveland - When I write about a wide receiver/tight end this offseason more times than not I am going to list the Cleveland Browns as a potential target. With Josh Gordon suspended indefinitely the team needs someone for their quarterback, whomever that will be, to throw the ball too other than Andrew Hawkins.
- Miami - Charles Clay could potentially leave this offseason, and with the likely departure of disgruntled wide receiver Mike Wallace, the Dolphins could use some young talent at the wide receiver position.
- Houston - The first order of business in Houston is to figure out who will be under center come week 1. As of now I would expect Ryan Mallett to be given the opportunity to win the job
- Arizona - John Carlson would probably be better off retiring this offseason as he has been unable to carve out consistent production during his career. Even if Carlson is around, the Cardinals need someone who can attack defenses up the middle of the field, an area that Funchess specializes in. Just think of a tight end with the athletic ability of Funchess, and the production that he could put up in a Bruce Arians run offense. Scary thoughts.
- Seattle - I do not get how Russell Wilson can get it done with the options he has at the wide receiver position, but somehow Wilson is able to produce. Paul Richardson is an intriguing young option with big-play potential, but is still raw and will have to get back to full-speed after suffering a torn ACL in the playoffs. Funchess would step in immediately and be the most talented wide receiver/tight end on the Seattle roster
- New England - Remember what the Patriots did when they had Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski on the same offense? Well the addition of Funchess to the Patriots would give Brady yet another weapon at his disposal.
- Minnesota - The Vikings desperately need a no. 1 wide receiver for their offense, and standing at 6'5", Funchess has the frame that Norv looks for in his "x" receiver
As you can see there are multiple teams in this year's draft that could be looking to acquire a tight end with the ability to make an impact as a pass catcher.
Currently I have Funchess as my number four rated wide receiver in the upcoming draft. While he does not have the experience playing the position like the other players in this draft class, Funchess does possess a versatile skill-set that offensive coordinators crave. I currently have Funchess graded as a round 2 talent due to the questions about which position he will play, and the inconsistencies he displayed with his hands.
If Funchess can go to the combine and post a 40 time within the 4.5 range, and show some impressive side-to-side agility in the 3-cone drill, I would not be surprised to see him slide into the bottom half of round 1.
Grade: Round 2
The debate on whether strength of schedule makes a difference in fantasy football is an interesting one. On one hand, it gives you the opportunity to steer clear of the players who might regress. On the other hand, it gives you a chance to over think things and end up not drafting a talented player specifically because you think he might struggle. Like answers to most things, the best way to analyze it lies somewhere between the two extremes.
When applying strength of schedule to fantasy football, it's important to realize which teams find ways to be successful even with a difficult schedule. These are the teams that you don't have to worry much about when it comes to drafting their players on your fantasy team. On the other hand, there are the younger, less successful teams that have been struggling already and adding a tough schedule on top of that can only make things worse.
How teams have done in the past
Looking back on the 2014 season, the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets were saddled with the two toughest schedules coming in. Talent-wise, both teams weren't considered contenders for a Super Bowl so there wasn't much hype coming in anyway and the results were about what you'd expect. Oakland finished a paltry 3-13 while the Jets ended up 4-12. Both teams failed to produce a reliable fantasy player, as they didn't produce a single 1,000 yard rusher or receiver which limited any chance of fantasy upside from any of their players.
Sure, they had their moments like every team did. Raiders RB Latavius Murray exploded for 112 yards and two touchdowns on just four carries during a Thursday night game against the Chiefs. Jets running back Christopher Ivory served as a plug-and-play flex option for the Jets as he finished with just under 900 yards to go along with six rushing touchdowns.
But while both teams had tough schedules, they also were just plain bad.
What about a good team?
Switching gears, let's take a look at a more talented team who ran through a gauntlet last season. The Denver Broncos held the AFC's best record at 13-3 in 2013 and entered 2014 with the second toughest schedule in the NFL. They finished at 12-4 in 2014.
So their record wasn't really affected, but let's take a look at their individual stats. Quarterback Peyton Manning posted a 39:15 TD-to-INT ratio in 2014 which paled in comparison to his 55:10 ratio in 2013. He also threw for about 700 less yards. Of course, you can argue that him being a year older at 38 and the fact that a 55 touchdown season is almost impossible to top, and you'd be right. Also, his 597 pass attempts in 2014 were less than his league leading 659 attempts in 2013 as well. Their receivers didn't miss a beat either, as Demaryius Thomas and free agent pickup Emmanuel Sanders surpassed the 1,000-yard plateau.
It really was a testament to how talented the team was. The Broncos took on New England and Seattle both on the road. They also played tough teams like Kansas City, Arizona and San Francisco in the earlier part of the season. Manning was fantastic in that early stretch, as he posted 19 touchdowns in the team's first six games. Ironically, he started to struggle later on against considerably worse defenses like Cincinnati and Oakland.
Manning can also be looked at like an exception to everything, considering he's one of the best quarterbacks of all time. So what if we take a medium-range quarterback who had a tough schedule in 2014.
Phillip Rivers and San Diego
The Chargers had the fourth toughest schedule entering 2014, and they finished 9-7 on the year. Quarterback Philip Rivers finished 12th among all fantasy quarterbacks with 254 points. A season ago, he finished sixth with 276 fantasy points. Overall, still not that big of a drop off. So let's look at the next team to undergo a tough schedule.
Pittsburgh Steelers up next
Well, it just so happens that the Pittsburgh Steelers face a similar road like the Broncos had in 2014. Like Denver, Pittsburgh plays both the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos on the road.
The Steelers schedule is murderous in 2015. They play both Seattle and New England on the road in addition to improving St. Louis. They also have Arizona and San Francisco, two teams that were among the best at stopping the run last year. The AFC West is also a decent defensive conference minus Oakland and the Raiders are already starting to show signs that they are improving on the defensive side as well with rookie Khalil Mack turning in a fantastic rookie season.
What does it mean for Le'Veon Bell?
Of all Pittsburgh's players including Antonio Brown and Ben Reothlisberger, Bell is probably the one guy we need to look at when it comes to a tougher schedule possibly hampering him in 2015. He played above and beyond expectations in 2014, and benefited from some weak defenses in the AFC North and also a weak out of conference schedule with the NFC South in 2014. Not saying that to entirely discredit Bell, he turned in a fantastic season and flashed competence in the receiving game that few people knew he had.
Even with all that though, the Steelers are a franchise that has found ways to defeat good teams regardless. They managed to make the playoffs last season. They also have a good offensive line with even better chemistry, including Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey. So does a tough schedule make Le'Veon Bell not worth drafting as an RB1? Absolutely not. Does it make you think twice about drafting him in the Top 3? Maybe. But probably not.
Overall, talent rules over everything. Don't worry too much about strength of schedule when drafting fantasy players. While it plays a slight factor, there are way too many other bigger factors that come into play such as injuries, team chemistry and as mentioned before, talent. The best fantasy players are good/great players on good/great teams. If you have a good player on a bad team, he can still produce. If you have a bad player on a good team, he can still produce. It sounds obvious at it is.