A Defense can be one of the biggest conundrums in fantasy year in and year out. People tend to go with popular Defensive choices like the Seattle Seahawks or Carolina Panthers rather early in drafts. Just because it’s Round 10 doesn’t mean choose a defense. There are still valuable players and handcuffs to acquire during the latter rounds of a draft.
Going by the finishing statistics of 2016, only one defense finished in the top five as their projection at the beginning of the season. According to ESPN Scoring, Denver Broncos D/ST had an average ADP of pick 67 which is asinine and only scored 152 points in 2016. That’s mid-fifth round in 12-team leagues and mid-sixth round in 10-team leagues. Let me ask you a question would you rather have Broncos Defense or future 2016-17 MVP Matt Ryan whose ADP was pick 114.
Think smart on average defenses can score you 150 to 180 points in a good year depending on your league scoring. Every other position eclipses those numbers by mid-season. Kickers score more than Defenses do on average per year, and they get chosen as flier picks in the last round of every draft. Last season, the Atlanta Falcons Kicker Matt Bryant scored a whopping 212 points outscoring the highest Defense by 46 points, that’s astonishing for a position we thought was worthless.
It’s time to implore a new philosophy of choosing Defenses last in drafts instead of Kickers. Don’t panic when you see four or five Defenses already off the board here a few tips to finding the Defensive Gems of 2017. Choose a Defensive Unit with one of these qualities:
· D/ST VS Consistent Bad QB Play
o Look for a D/ST that goes up against a lot of inexperienced QBs like Brock Osweiler, any Cleveland Browns QB, or Blake Borltes. Zeroing in on a defenses schedule will help you find the gems you need that will help you succeed during the regular season.
o Bad QB Play turns into natural points either sacks or turnovers. Rookie QB’s have a tendency of struggling against any defense, so look for those type of matchups as well.
o For instance, the Chiefs was the No. 1 D/ST of 2016. They took advantage of games where they faced QBs like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Trevor Semian (twice), Jameis Winston, Brock Osweiler, and Blake Bortles. All of which are either young or turnover prone.
· D/ST That Creates Turnovers
o Teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or San Diego Chargers were barely drafted but were some of the top turnover leaders. Tampa Bay led the league with four interceptions returned for touchdowns, which is a huge boost to any roster.
o Overall Arizona Cardinals high ranked defense lived up to expectation by creating a league-high 25 forced fumbles and 48 sacks.
· D/ST With a Lethal Special Teams Unit
o Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, and Philadelphia Eagles are teams that boast lethal Special Team units. Cordarrelle Patterson, Ty ”Freak” Hill and Darren Sproles are one of a kind talents that can take any kickoff return to the house.
All of these qualities are pertinent to selecting a Defense that will be beneficial to your team and draft position. I learned to wait on this position and collect value at others in 2016. So, try philosophy in 2017 and see if you can come out more dominant rosters from top to bottom. It always feels good to get bailed out from somewhere you least expected it.
These are a series of notes on why Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman has had such a breakout season midway through 2015. One of the reasons why we love football is for its parity, and Freeman is a classic example of a breakout RB nobody saw coming. Here I look at the Redskins/Falcons game where Freeman posted high quality stats and see where he was successful and try to point out why.
At age 23, Freeman is in his second season and has an NFL-leading 9 touchdowns at the running back position. With three games of over 100 yards through seven weeks to go along with two 3-touchdown efforts, Freeman has been by far the biggest breakout fantasy running back of the season so far.
Notes from game vs. Washington Redskins
Freeman's stats in that one: 27 carries for 153 yards, 1 touchdown, 7 receptions for 44 yards
Some of the things I've noticed when watching Freeman run in this game was his ability to place his hand on the ground to re-establish his balance after contact with a defender. By doing this, he managed to turn a negative gain into a positive one in the first quarter. It happened on zone stretch play off the right side. The Redskins defensive tackle got off his block quickly and penetrated the backfield. The DT got his arm on Freeman as he ran through the hole.
While most running backs would've got tripped out for a loss, Freeman stumbled but used his off-hand and kept his knee from hitting the ground all while keeping his feet moving for a positive gain. It may not seem like much, but running backs who can create positive yardage even when their blocking isn't ideal can instill a lot of confidence in both the player, coaching staff and overall team. This kind of gain comes from a competitive drive within the runner to finish the play and get the most yardage possible. It can become contagious and lead to bigger gains as the game progresses due to the defense tiring out and also from the confidence within the entire team which I mentioned earlier.
Another thing I've noticed is Freeman's speed doesn't change throughout his run. His initial burst is very quick and he maintains that speed to the outside. He's patient when setting up his blocks where he has to cut off a blocker. This makes it difficult for defenders to react quick enough even if they get off their blocks since Freeman has typically already moved past them by that time.
Freeman is also a smart runner in terms of vision. When I say 'smart,' I mean he knows how to use the blockers in front of him and choose the correct lane to run in. When there's not a clear lane, Freeman can make one by framing blocks. When I say 'frame,' I mean he'll run right behind a lineman's butt and then cut off him so as to keep the defender from guessing which way he's going to cut and making it more difficult for the lineman to maintain his block. This also causes other defenders to get sucked into the lineman's block as well since Freeman is so close to his blocker, which sometimes results in both defenders knocking into each other and effectively cancel each other. I saw a lot of that when I looked at C.J. Anderson's tape from last season. Another running back who's very good at being patient at this is Le'Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Anderson was very good at reading the blocks that were in front of him and he clearly had the utmost trust those blocks would be there. and Freeman has proven no different, and sometimes success at the running back position is as simple as not trying to do too much and just hitting the hole with decisiveness. It's an instinctual reaction to what's in front of you, and how quickly you make up your mind and decide which hole to run through and whether or not it's the correct decision makes all the difference.
The zone stretch play to the left side was absolute money for Atlanta in this game. In fact, all of Freeman's biggest gains on a late fourth quarter drive came on left side runs. The Falcons offensive line did an exceptional job blocking and Freeman was decisive on all of those runs.
In my first installment of Buy/Sell I broke down the fantasy value between Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and the Broncos Peyton Manning. For my second installment, I am going to dissect the fantasy potential of two of the league’s most prolific passers, Saints quarterback Drew Brees, and the Falcons Matt Ryan.
Buy: Matt Ryan
When Dirk Koetter signed on in 2012 to be the Falcons offensive coordinator one thing was for certain, Matt Ryan was going to throw the ball all over the yard. In the three seasons that Koetter was in charge of play-calling, the Falcons had one of the more pass-happy offenses in the NFL, finishing in the top-10 in passing attempts and passing yards every year.
Despite having one of the best offensive units in football the Falcons were held back by sub-par offensive line play, and arguably the worst defense in football. Due to these deficiencies the Falcons finished the 2014-15 season with a 6-10 record, leading to the dismissal of head coach Mike Smith and the rest of the Falcons coaching staff.
New Coaching Staff
Despite Kyle Shannahan taking over for Dirk Koetter as the Falcons offensive coordinator, I do not expect the Falcons offense to take a step back in the 2015-16 season.
During Shannahan's 7 seasons as an offensive coordinator in the NFL with the Texans, Redskins, and the Browns, Shannahan has been one of the most pass-happy coaches in the NFL, ranking in the top-10 in 5 out of 7 seasons in total passing attempts. The only two times that Shannahan did not rank in the top-10 in pass attempts was in 2013, one year after Robert Griffin III suffered a torn ACL, and in 2015 in Cleveland when he had to deal with the sub-par quarterback talent of veteran journeyman Brian Hoyer and rookie Johnny "Football" Manziel.
Aside from having one of the worst offensive lines in football, the Falcons offense is still littered with playmakers that have the potential to make even an average quarterback look like a Joe Montana.
Julio Jones has finally taken over as the focal point as the Falcons passing attack, with Roddy White shifting to more of a possession. Despite ranking third in the NFL in both targets (154) and receptions (103) Jones only found pay-dirt 6 times causing Jones to be an elite PPR asset, and a low WR1 in standard formats.
Although "Rowdy" Roddy White (as my buddy Paddy refers to him as) is getting closer to the twilight zone of his career he still proved to be a reliable receiver for fantasy owners. Despite missing two games in 2014, White still ranked in the top 20 in targets (122), receptions (80), and touchdown receptions (7), ranking White as the 24th overall wide receiver (Low WR2) in ESPN standard scoring leagues.
Sell: Drew Brees
Just like with Peyton Manning, I am not telling you that Drew Bress is a player you should completely avoid in fantasy football, but should definitely temper your expectations for the former MVP. After losing Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks and the team investing a large amount of money to stabilize the running game, the Saints could be looking at a shift in offensive philosophy in 2015.
Jimmy Graham Departure
Normally the loss of a tight end would not be something that scares me off from drafting a quarterback in fantasy football, but when that tight end is Jimmy Graham you have to take note.
As you can see by the table below Graham has been one of the most dangerous pass-catching tight ends over the last three seasons. Last year, in what could be considered a "down year" by the standards that fantasy owners hold Graham to, Graham was still able to post double-digit touchdowns and almost 900 receiving yards, ranking him the no. 3 overall tight end in fantasy football.
|Graham||TA||Rec.||% Ct||Yds||Yds / Rec.||YAC||YAC / Rec.||LG||TD|
With Graham's departure to Seattle, it leaves a gaping hole in the Saints receiving corps. All-purpose receiver Brandin Cooks showed promise during his rookie season, but would be more effective as a slot receiver than a player that predominantly plays on the boundary. Marques Colston re-structred his contract to stay with the team but is in no way capable of being a no. 1 WR at this point in his career.
Little known second-year tight end Josh Hill will be given the opportunity to fill the void left by Graham in the Saints passing game. Saints head coach Sean Payton has raved about Hill this offseason stating in an interview with ESPN, "This Josh Hill is another player that I love. I love," Payton said "When you look at his runs, jumps, height, weight, speed, you look at his measurable ---- and he didn't go to the Combine, thank God.
While it is fair to assume that Hill will see an uptick in production in 2015, I highly doubt that the will come anywhere close to the production Graham posted aside from his 31/356/5 that Graham posted his rookie season.
With the draft quickly approaching, and the Saints in possession of two first-round picks the Saints could be in line to add wide receiver early in the draft for the second year-in-a-row.
Photo Courtesy of Football Schedule Flickr Page
Strength of schedule is always one of the hottest topic in the offseason and the debate regarding whether or not strength of schedule matters is always a controversial one. One of the most important things to remember is that it's February, so we're early in the offseason and you have expect each team's strength of schedule to slightly shift with every free agency acquisition/departure, every draft pick, every retirement announcement and every current player becoming just one year older. All these transactions affect the team's chemistry as a whole and when you play in a league with such a small margin for error like the NFL, then one small change can make a big difference.
So while you may be deciding many things about your fantasy team such as which player to keep or which player you should get rid of, just remember that you really want to take your potential keepers strength of schedule into consideration when deciding if you should keep him. You should also base your decision on several other factors as well such as his age, the talent surrounding him and his team's offensive system. But for now, let's take a look at which players stand to benefit most from the 2015 NFL schedule released by CBS earlier this week.
1. Matt Ryan/Julio Jones
The Atlanta Falcons have the easiest schedule on paper in 2015 with a combined opponent record of 104-150-2. They lead off the first three weeks with New Orleans, Cincinnati and Tampa Bay. Of those three opponents, the Buccaneers ranked 3rd worst against wide receivers, averaging 24.7 fantasy points per game. The Saints weren't far behind, giving up 23.3 points per game to wideouts as well. The Bengals fared better against the pass but ranked in the bottom five in fantasy points allowed to running backs. They surrendered 19.4 points per game on average to RBs in 2014. Keep in mind, this is just the first three games.
But with strength of schedule, you always have to look at the opponents during the money weeks (usually Weeks 14,15 and 16 in most leagues). In that span, the Falcons get Green Bay in Week 14, Pittsburgh in Week 15 and New Orleans in Week 16. Both the Saints and Steelers were in the bottom six for fantasy points allowed against quarterbacks.
Julio Jones came a little over 100 receiving yards shy of winning his first receiving title in 2014. Had he not been injured over the final stretch of the season, he probably would've gotten it as he really caught fire in the waning games with 613 total yards in his last four contests. Unless some of the Falcons' opponents really revamp their defenses in the offseason, Julio could easily kick off 2015 on a similar note. If you want to go with Ryan and Jones as a combo in 2015, this is the year to do it.
2. Andrew Luck
The Colts are a team on the rise. Since Luck entered the picture as the team's franchise quarterback in 2012, Indy has been passing its checkpoints with flying colors and hasn't shown any hitches in the process. Make the playoffs in your first year? Check. Make the playoffs in your second year and win in impressive comeback fashion? Check. Make the playoffs your third year and advance all the way to the AFC Championship game? Check.
To top it off, the Colts will have the second easiest schedule on paper in 2015 with a combined opponent record of 106-149-1. The Colts play in the weak AFC South, a division where two of its teams will be picking in the top 3 come the 2015 draft. They also get the benefit of playing tougher opponents like New England at home in their cozy dome as opposed to the often unforgiving cold weather in New England. The Colts are 19-5 at home since Luck took over and they haven't lost more than two games at Lucas Oil Stadium since then as well.
3. DeAndre Hopkins
The Texans announced Ryan Mallet as their likely 2015 starter at quarterback earlier this week and his performance will definitely play a huge role in Hopkins' further development. Good news for him and his fellow wide receiver Hopkins that he'll have a relatively easy slate to work with in 2015. Like Indy, the Texans will feast on the defensive backfields of Tennessee and Jacksonville twice. They will also play three of the worst fantasy defenses against wide receiver teams in New Orleans, Tampa Bay and the New York Jets. All those games are home games as well.
Hopkins is coming off a solid 76/1,210/6 season and posted a monster game against Tennessee where he compiled nine catches for 238 yards and two touchdowns. Mallet's big arm complements Hopkins speed perfectly. Hopkins is a big play receiver, as evidenced by 15.9 yards per catch average which ranked eighth overall in 2014. That, plus a weak division and three additional shaky secondaries makes Hopkins a high upside WR2 in 2015.
4. Cam Newton
The Carolina Panthers finished strong in 2014 despite a banged up defense and an unfortunate car accident that sidelined quarterback Cam Newton for a game with two back fractures. Even with that, the Panthers found their run game thanks to a resurrected Jonathan Stewart and rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin showed much promise as a red zone jump ball threat.
The Panthers have one of the top 5 best schedules in 2015 with a combined opponent record of 111-145 (.434) and hopefully their bad injury luck will be a thing of the past. They play in the weak NFC South which was full of terrible defenses last year and they also get (I can see you're sensing a theme here) the AFC South as their out of conference opponents.
5. Tom Brady
Coming off his first Super Bowl victory in over a decade, Brady and the Patriots will have the luxury of a not-so-difficult path on their way to repeating as champions. They play Philadelphia at home, a team that gave up more fantasy points to wide receivers than any other team in the league last year. The team right behind Philadelphia in that category was the Washington Redskins, a team New England will also play at home. New England also plays AFC South punching bags Tennessee and Jacksonville. Consider Brady and all his receivers including Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman and of course, Rob Gronkowski as viable fantasy options in 2015 once again.
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On Friday's episode of Treatment, the Helpers discuss potential situations where future fantasy stars could emerge at various positions. They mention Atlanta's current hole at tight end in addition to Tennessee's questionable backfield and San Diego's inconsistency with Ryan Mathews.
Potential fantasy value situation No. 1 — TE for Atlanta Falcons
Why it's valuable: Levine Toilolo didn't exactly make a splash in replacement of future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. Toilolo finished with just two touchdowns in 2014, a disappointing number considering the Falcons passed the ball 628 times which was the second most in the league behind New Orleans. This is an offense that has plenty of ball to go around, and guys like Harry Douglas and Jacquizz Rogers shouldn't be seeing nearly as many targets as they have been. Toilolo ended up seeing 54 targets, that's not good enough for this kind of offense. Overall, he established himself as more of a blocker than receiver. We've seen blocking tight ends blossom into dominant receivers before (ex: Julius Thomas in 2013) but it doesn't look like Toilolo will be following in those footsteps.
So with so much opportunity, there's some serious fantasy value to be had at the position should the Falcons sign someone. Jordan Cameron of the Cleveland Browns immediately comes to mind. Cameron set franchise records in touchdowns in 2013 when he was healthy for the first time and reportedly wants out of Cleveland. Should he leave and somehow end up on Atlanta, he would immediately catapult his value to TE1 status despite his injury-prone past.
Potential fantasy value situation No. 2 — RB for Tennessee Titans
Why it's valuable: Next up we have the backfield for the Tennessee Titans. Rookie Bishop Sankey had perhaps the best potential situation for putting up good fantasy numbers but left a lot to be desired on the stat sheet. Sankey finished with just 569 yards and two touchdowns. He also averaged a mediocre 3.7 yards per carry. Now, a lot of that had to do with the offensive line and shaky quarterback situation in Tennessee, but it still doesn't reflect well on Sankey considering he was a rookie who was given a good chunk of carries and also failed to make much noise around the goal line.
The Titans have the No. 2 pick in the draft and although they will probably take a defensive end as most mock drafts are indicating, expect Tennessee to look at other options in the backfield if not just for insurance in case Sankey has a repeat performance of 2014.
Potential fantasy value situation No. 3 — RB for San Diego Chargers
Why it's valuable: Ryan Mathews had another injury-plagued season in 2014 and finished with 330 yards on 74 carries and three touchdowns. Mathews seems to have a good year every other year. He eclipsed the 1,000-yard plateau in years 2011 and 2013, but failed to do so in 2010, 2012 and now 2014. It seems like a good bet to draft Mathews in odd years. Either way, he's been inconsistent enough on a fringe playoff team to warrant some kind of change in the backfield. If someone ends up replacing him, whether it be a rookie or backup running back Branden Oliver or Donald Brown, be sure to weigh the options of drafting that RB over Mathews.
Potential fantasy value situation No. 4 — RB for Atlanta Falcons
Why it's valuable: We mentioned this one in our coaches shuffle podcast earlier last month but it bears repeating. Kyle Shanahan has proven to be a successful running coach and now that he's in Atlanta, expect the coordinator who made a 1,000 yard rusher out of late draft pick Alfred Morris to shake things up in the backfield. Right now, Devonta Freeman looks like the guy Atlanta will be utilizing first, but he struggled at times as a rookie and hasn't shown any sign that he can be a reliable fantasy running back as of yet. This is one situation to monitor because of Shanahan's past success and the wide open backfield in Atlanta.
On Friday's episode of Treatment, the Fantasy Football Helpers discuss Tampa Bay's hiring of former Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and how it will likely have a positive impact on the Bucs fantasy value. They also talk about San Francisco's new offensive coordinator and how it will have just the opposite effect on the 49ers' offense.
The Helpers first start out discussing newly hired Buccaneers' offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who comes over from the Atlanta Falcons. While at Atlanta, Koetter established a pass happy regime that kept quarterback Matt Ryan in the Top 5 in passing attempts consistently throughout his time there.
After spending time at Arizona State in the mid 2000s, Koetter landed his first NFL job as offensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2007. He was very successful during his time there, as he helped David Garrard turn in a 18 touchdown, three interception season and the Jags made the playoffs. The following season, Garrard would throw the ball 535 times, which was seventh most among all quarterbacks that season. Garrard's 15:13 TD-INT ratio wasn't nearly as good that year, however.
While Koetter was in Jacksonville, he helped strengthen the fantasy value of receivers like Mike Sims-Walker, tight end Mercedes Lewis and running back Maurice Jones-Drew. While at Atlanta, he helped the Falcons become one of the most prominent offenses in the game and also played a key role in utilizing Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez in the passing game. In his final season with the Falcons in 2014, Koetter's offense ranked in the Top 5 for passing yards per game (284) and 12th in points per game (23.8).
When it comes to Tampa Bay, Koetter will again step into a good situation with plenty of weapons. Young receiver Mike Evans will be coming off a tremendous rookie campaign where he scored multiple touchdowns in a series of games midway through the season that set records held by former great Randy Moss. Fellow wide receiver Vincent Jackson is also coming off a decent season of his own and young tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins could be poised for a breakout season of his own. Seferian-Jenkins finished with 21 catches for 221 yards and two touchdowns in his rookie season.
Expect all of Tampa Bay's receivers to become better fantasy options due to Koetter's pass happy offense that will led to more opportunities for the skills players to accrue stats.
The Helpers then shifted their discussion to San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Geep Chryst. Previously the 49ers quarterbacks coach, Chryst will now take over as the team's play caller and is the only assistant still with the team that was brought in by departed coach Jim Harbaugh. It's a puzzling hire, considering Chryst did little to enhance the skills of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a guy who took several steps back and failed to the make the playoffs for the first time since taking over as starter in 2012. It's not a sign that the 49ers' receivers will be better fantasy players in 2015, as Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis are both coming off less than stellar seaosns.
Alfred Morris in 2012. Eddie Lacy in 2013. Jeremy Hill in 2014.
What do all three of those running backs have in common? They were all rookies when they rushed for over 1,000 yards and surprised everybody. By doing so, they cemented themselves as some of the best fantasy bargains in their respective rookie seasons. They did this through their talent obviously, but they also had a high volume of carries and good talent around them which likely played an even bigger role in their early success.
Let's start with the volume argument. In 2013, Lacy's 284 carries his rookie season ranked fifth overall. Morris had 335 carries in 2012 which was good for third best that season and Hill's 222 carries ranked 13th this past season. It's through this idea of volume carries that we will use to see if we can figure out who will be the guy to post 1,000-plus rushing yards in 2015.
Among those three rookie seasons, Morris found the most success in the yardage category and also (coincidentally) had the most volume. The sixth-round draft pick by the Redskins thrived under Kyle Shanhan's zone run blocking scheme and finished second in the league in rushing yards with 1,613. He trailed only Adrian Peterson that season, who had a monstrous 2,097 yards and come 14 yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson's long held record of 2,105 set in 1984. Morris also had a pre-injury Robert Griffin III under center. RG3 and the Redskins also ran a read option offense that few defensive coordinators had figured out yet.
Lacy had a similar story to Morris. He might've been slightly more hyped coming out of college, but his draft stock took a bit of a nose dive when an injury forced him to miss several workouts during the combine which led to Giovani Bernard getting selected as the first running back overall in the 2013 draft. Le'Veon Bell and Montee Ball were also taken before Lacy, as Eddie was eventually taken later in the second round by the Green Bay Packers. While Lacy never possessed crazy explosiveness and was even considered 'too fat' to play running back by many, he showed great determination and purpose to go along with his immense strength and eventually finished with 1,178 yards and more importantly, 11 touchdowns. Lacy had Aaron Rodgers under center.
Just this past season, LSU product Jeremy Hill found himself embedded in a run heavy offense in Cincinnati under offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and found his place quickly after former starter Giovani Bernard went down with an injury early in the season. Hill rushed for 1,124 yards and 9 touchdowns. While there was some luck involved since he had to wait for an opportunity before he could see a spike in numbers, Hill's volume of carries increased even after Bernard recovered. If you extrapolate Hill's rushing attempts had he been the full-time starter at the beginning of the season, you would've been looking at numbers similar to Lacy and Morris.
While Hill didn't have a premier quarterback under center like RG3 (2012 RG3, not today's RG3) and Rodgers, he did have an offensive line that hovered around the Top 10 in run blocking. Another running back who probably had the most potential for volume last season was Bishop Sankey of the Tennessee Titans. Sankey found himself on an offense without a true No. 1 running back, but Tennessee's offensive line ranked in the bottom 15 and Sankey also didn't prove to be very explosive in his own right. So this theory isn't full proof, but it's a good start.
Why it's important for fantasy football
Identifying bargains and hitting on them is always key in fantasy football. For example, if you ended up with a pair of running backs like Le'Veon Bell and Jeremy Hill, you would've been set at running back for the majority of the 2014 season.
Bell was the 12th running back taken off on the board on average in standard rules fantasy drafts this year according to FantasyPros. Hill was the 40th RB selected on average. Bell finished as the No. 2 running back in fantasy this past season with 272 fantasy points, trailing only DeMarco Murray. Hill finished as the 10th best running back in fantasy with 171 fantasy points and compiled those numbers in roughly 10 starts, closing out the year with three straight 100-yard efforts.
Chances are, you were probably bummed out if you drafted those guys initially, as they were guys you took simply because they were the last running back left in their tier or whatever. but as the season went along, you were happier and happier.
Who's the potential best bargain in this year's crop of rookie running backs?
Obviously, it's too early to tell. But before you get angry and click the 'x' button, there's a way to reasonably predict which future rookie running back has the best chance to put up good numbers in their first season. That way comes from (you guessed it), identifying which team would have the potential to give the rookie running back the highest volume of carries.
The biggest and most obvious factor when predicting a bargain fantasy rookie running back is playing time. If the team doesn't need that running back because they already have a firm starter in his place, then he won't be in the backfield accruing stats for your fantasy team. A good example of this is Christine Michael in Seattle, a guy who drew some hype before the 2014 began only to be kept on the bench due to Marshawn Lynch's continued success. Carlos Hyde and Frank Gore are two other examples. So let's take a look at some of the team's that actually need a running back and assess whether or not that team has enough talent to help a rookie become a bargain fantasy running back in 2015.
Side note: This assessment of team's picking is just for the first round of the 2015 draft only and based on team needs only. It doesn't take into account the teams who don't have a significant need for a new running back (for sake of the 'demand' argument earlier). This argument doesn't take talent into account as much either. It assumes all this year's top running backs are equally talented (we know that's not exactly the case, but for arguments sake lets say it is).
Jacksonville Jaguars (pick No. 3) — The Toby Gerhart experiment failed for the Jaguars in 2014, and now it's looking like they may need a true workhorse to complement scat back Denard Robinson. The point of this article isn't to try and predict if Jacksonville would take a running back, it's to see how well that running back could do if he got drafted there.
Jacksonville's offensive line struggled mightily last season. They ranked dead last in pass protection and 29th in run blocking according to Football Outsiders. Drafting a rookie running back to your fantasy team in a redraft league who plays on Jacksonville in 2015 would be risky if they don't make some big changes to their offensive line in the offseason.
Good volume probability: High Talent on team: Low Overall bargain probability: Low
Atlanta Falcons (pick No. 8) — A big factor that could help a rookie running backs cause on this team is Kyle Shanahan's zone run blocking scheme. We mentioned early how Morris had immense success in this offense as a rookie despite not being the most highly touted running back coming out of the draft.
The Atlanta Falcons ranked in the middle of the pack when it came to run blocking last season, and that was with some key injuries along the offensive line. Plus, they already have one of the best receivers in the league in Julio Jones, a guy who can stretch the field and take corners and safeties deep which will clear out space for the running back. We saw how DeSean Jackson's speed in Philadelphia helped LeSean McCoy win the rushing title in 2013.
The running back situation is currently cloudy but the potential for volume exists. Veteran Steven Jackson will likely be cut and Jacquizz Rodgers is a free agent. That leaves Devonta Freeman left. Freeman didn't play much as a rookie and struggled when he did.
The Falcons also play in the NFC South, a division currently known for some of the worst defenses in the league. The Falcons put up nearly 60 points on a Thursday night game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers early this season. If the Falcons end up taking a good rookie running back sometime this draft, fantasy numbers could be very good.
Good volume probability: Medium Talent on team: High Overall bargain probability: High
St. Louis Rams (pick No 10) — The Rams were a team that slowly got better as the season went along, especially on the defensive side. They drafted a rookie running back last year in Tre Mason and Mason ended up having one monster game against Oakland to go along with several good ones.
Despite Mason's solid 765 yard, four touchdown rookie season, there's still some doubt as to whether or not he can be an every-down back for St. Louis. The Rams (like Atlanta) ranked in the middle of the road when it came to run blocking in 2014. But unlike Atlanta, they have quarterback and receiver issues which make them much more susceptible to team stacking the box.
Good volume probability: Medium Talent on team: Medium Overall bargain probability: Average
Baltimore Ravens (pick No. 26) — The Ravens struggled on the offensive line but added tackle Eugene Monroe from Jacksonville at a great price and also got great production out of their rookie linemen. That, combined with Gary Kubiak's wizardry in the run game led to former castaway Justin Forsett having a career season in 2014. Joe Flacco also played some of the best ball of his career and the Ravens made the playoffs after failing to the previous season.
Good volume probability: Medium Talent on team: High Overall bargain probability: High
New England Patriots (pick No. 32) — I'm sure you're cringing as you read this based on Bill Belichick's unpredictable offensive game planing that has screwed your fantasy team over countless times but the Patriots are in need of a running back if they don't resign Stevan Ridley. Their offensive line ranked in the Top 5 in run blocking this season and helped Jonas Gray have a monster game against Indianapolis on Sunday night. They also helped LaGarrette Blount reclaim fantasy relevance in the playoffs as well.
If they take a running back, of course you'll most definitely not want to take him high due to the risk. But there's also a high probability that the rookie running back has some good outings as long as he doesn't fumble and get in Belichick's doghouse.
Good volume probability: Low Talent on team: High Overall bargain probability: Low
So if you're looking at right now, the Falcons, Ravens and Rams probably have the best chances for high volume carries for a rookie running back. The Falcons and Ravens have the most talent on the offensive side of the ball with their quarterbacks, while Baltimore has the best offensive line and Atlanta has a good receiving core. If any of the most highly-touted rookie running backs gets selected onto the Ravens or Falcons, he likely has the best potential to be a bargain fantasy running back in 2015.
I’d like to wish a Happy Thanksgiving weekend to all the readers and families of readers out there. Thanksgiving is far and away my favorite holiday of the year. The holiday encompasses my two favorite activities, eating (hopefully) really good food and watching football. It’s that simple. There are no gifts I need to worry about buying, there’s no religious aspect to the holiday, there’s no costumes and people ringing my doorbell all day long, and as much as I love kids, there’s no Thanksgiving fictional character that I have to worry about blurting out isn’t real. It’s really just “Hey, come over we’ll watch football, we’ll eat really good food and then we’ll watch a little more football.” What a holiday! I’m sure the attendees at the 1st Thanksgiving did not incorporate football into the plans for how the tradition would carry on, but I’d like to say thanks on this Thanksgiving to the pilgrim who invented this holiday, I thank you sir/madam. Whoever you are/were, you started what became the perfect day, a national holiday solely based around food and football. Ok I do admit the holiday gets me thinking about how thankful I am for my beautiful wife, the rest of my wonderful family, and all my friends, and it even gets me thinking about how thankful I am for my freedom and about how incredible our soldiers are. So in summary, football, delicious food, more football, family time, and ignoring the bad momentarily while accentuating all the good things in life to be thankful for…..it’s the perfect holiday.
This is the last week of many regular seasons. Do or die, make or break, or in my case division title and first round bye, or monumental collapse. Use these sleepers and busts to jockey for playoff position and to ensure that this will not be your last week.
Happy Thanksgiving once again to you all. I’m also thankful for each and every one of you out there giving this article a read.
Without further ado, your week 13 Sleepers and Busts:
DISCLAIMER:A sleeper is not a must start and a bust is not a must bench, they are merely indications that a player will have a better or worse game this week than they normally do. It all really depends on your alternatives. I will give an example of a few players for whom I personally would start the sleeper over or bench the bust for.These players are simply there as an indication of how good or bad I think the sleepers/busts will perform so you have a comparison in mind when applying it to your actual lineup. For example if I am comparing a QB to a stud like Andrew Luck, I am not necessarily saying you need to start him over Luck (even if I would) but it will imply that I feel really good about him.
Matt Ryan v. Arizona
Is Arizona a very good defense? Sure. Is this matchup ideal for Matt Ryan? Probably not. But Ryan is at home against a team who we know for a fact will not allow the opposition to run the ball. Ryan is ranked as the number 20 or so QB on most popular sites and if he did perform that poorly it would just mean the Falcons would get totally shut down completely at home. I refuse to believe this will happen. In 4 home games (they’ve had 1 neutral game in London which I am not counting) Matt Ryan has thrown 9 TDs while only committing 3 turnovers. Also, the Cardinals, while they are one of the elite NFL defenses, have allowed the 8th most passing yards per game this season. He’s not a must start QB1 but Ryan historically performs significantly better at home than he does on the road, and even if the Falcons lose this game handily, he’ll still have a good amount of yards and a couple of TDs to show for it.
I’d Start Matt Ryan over: Eli Manning, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Zach Mettenberger,
Cam Newton at Minnesota
Newton is coming off a bye week so maybe he’s been able to heal, but he clearly hasn’t been playing healthy. He’s no longer the threat he used to be running the ball. He’s also reverted back to his poor decision making ways with only 4 TD and 10 turnovers in his last 4 weeks. Minnesota is at home and is coming off an impressive showing against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. They lost the game but they put pressure on ARod and limited the Pack to 24 points, not an easy feat. The strength of the Vikings defense lies in their secondary where Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith lead the way, limiting teams to the 7th fewest passing yards per game. They’re also a top 5 defense against opposing TEs, the position of most strength in the Panthers passing attack. Newton is being ranked as a matchup QB option, in the 13-16 range but I see him as a borderline QB2 and maybe even a non-start in 2 QB leagues.
I’d Start the following players over Cam Newton: Andy Dalton, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Zach Mettenberger, Kyle Orton,
Dan Herron v. Washington
Herron was a surprise starter last week, even to fellow Colts RB Trent Richardson. There was a fairly even time share between he and Richardson, but Herron out touched him and out gained him and most importantly he racked up five receptions while playing on 3rd downs. The Colts will miss Ahmad Bradshaw but it’s nice to see that they have a better talent than Richardson in Herron that they can use when killing clock. Clock killing is exactly what the Colts will be doing this week at home against the hapless Redskins. The Skins will be going into Indianapolis start Colt McCoy. This seems like a total mismatch, one that will heavily favor the Colts. Look for Herron to once again out touch Trent Richardson and approach 100 yards while getting in the endzone at least once. Herron is a high RB2 this week.
I’d start Dan Herron over: Isaiah Crowell, LeGarrette Blount, Giovanni Bernard, Fred Jackson
Isaiah Crowell at Buffalo
Isaiah Crowell is a great talent that much is clear. His future in this league is bright. The Georgia alum was able to break out last week, ripping apart the Falcons in a homecoming game for him in Atlanta. However, I do not think he’s matchup proof and is not a must start. Buffalo is ranked 5th against fantasy RBs in .5PPR leagues. At home they’ve limited their opponents and have only allowed the Patriots to put up more than 22 points. This game has cold weather low scoring game written all over it. The Bills defense is fast at LB on the edges and match up with Crowell’s skill set. Despite Josh Gordon’s return to the lineup, the Browns will not have success moving up and down the field, and the opportunities for redzone touches and scores will not be there for the Crow. Crowell is a flex option this week but I would not trust him in leagues that start only 2 RBs.
Charles Johnson v. Carolina
Charles Johnson was a much hyped up rookie coming into the season but had not been a factor until week 10. In the last two weeks his catches, targets, yards and playing time have all skyrocketed. This past week it was apparent that he was the Vikings number 1 WR, playing 67/69 snaps and receiving 11 targets. He only turned those targets into 3 catches for 52 yards but he did score a TD and was open on several other occasions. The last two weeks have resulted in 9 catches for 139 yards and a TD. Carolina comes to town sporting the 26th ranked defense against fantasy WRs. CB Captain Munnerlyn and safety Mike Mitchell have been major losses in the secondary from a once dominant defense. Perhaps an even bigger factor has been the suspension of All Pro defensive end Greg Hardy. Hardy’s absence has all but eliminated the Panthers pass rush and QBs and WRs are having a field day against the new Panthers defense. Look for Teddy Bridgewater to have one of his best days as a pro passer and for his new number 1 target, Charles Johnson, to be the major beneficiary. Johnson can be started in many 3 WR leagues.
I’d Start Charles Johnson over: Kenny Stills, Michael Floyd, John Brown, Steve Smith, Julian Edelman
Kenny Stills at Pittsburgh
Kenny Stills was expected to step up after Brandin Cooks went down with a broken thumb, and he did not disappoint. Stills caught 8 balls for 98 yards in his new role, however this week he and his teammates at WR could be in for a down game. The Saints, a disappointing offense, travels to Pittsburgh. The Steelers sustained early season injuries and after weeks of being decimated on defense return 3 key starters in Ike Taylor, Troy Polumalu and Ryan Shazier. The defense has been able to remain effective ranking 16th in passing yards against and 9th against fantasy WRs despite these key losses. Now with the defense back at full strength the Steelers should be able to once again become a viable defense, especially at home. Other than Jimmy Graham there is no sure thing in this difficult road matchup.
I’d start the following players over Kenny Stills: Charles Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Wallace, Steve Smith, Sammy Watkins
Charles Clay at. New York Jets
Charles Clay was a top 10 TE last season and he has built fine chemistry in the redzone with Ryan Tannehill. This season he hasn’t had as much success playing in a new offense and dealing with injuries, but he’s shown to be able to produce in the right matchups. Coming off a groin injury, he returns just in time for the 3rd worst team against TEs the New York Jets. The Jets have allowed a mind boggling 12 TDs to TEs and this past week allowed one to Bills TE Scott Chandler. Outside of my top 6 TEs this week (Graham, Gronk, Julius Thomas, Greg Olsen, Delanie Walker) it has not been easy to find consistent TE play so it’s important to play the matchups. I’d start Clay over anyone who isn’t those 6 guys in this game.
I’d start Charles Clay over: Antonio Gates, Coby Fleener, Larry Donnell, Travis Kelce
Antonio Gates at Baltimore
Antonio Gates was the reason why many fantasy teams got off to a great start with his surge of TDs in the first half of the season. Recently he’s been the reason why fantasy teams may be going through an epic collapse to end the season. Gates has combined for only 74 yards the last three weeks. He’s only had 10 targets in that stretch and he hasn’t had more than 61 receiving yards in a game since week 2. He’s TD dependent and is on the road against a defense in Baltimore that has allowed slightly over 10 points per game in five home games. TD opportunities may not be available against this stingy defense. I’d play the matchups and look elsewhere at TE this week.
I’d start the following players over Antonio Gates: Travis Kelce, Delanie Walker, Coby Fleener, Charles Clay, Tim Wright
That’ll be it for this week. Happy Thanksgiving weekend. Good luck and see you in the playoffs!
Goal of this podcast: To give you one last string of well-educated speculation before the NFL regular season begins. We talk sleeper picks that have been overhyped, plus two bold predictions, some mailbag and a few guys who could rock the denim as well as Aaron Rodgers and crew did earlier this week.