Now that Free Agency Frenzy has settled down these past several weeks, all fantasy football owners are eyeing the NFL Draft which will be held April 27-29 as the last true roster shakeup before OTA’s begin shortly thereafter. Of course, the total unknown for us fantasy owners is where will the well-known and most celebrated skill position players land when those 3 days are over. And this is where yours truly, the resident arm-chair GM comes in, to guide you through these series of articles that will try to surmise where the best fantasy football fit will be for those players for the upcoming season.
Leonard Fournette | RB
New York Jets- Drafting in the 6th spot, they can go a myriad of directions, but there’s a chance Fournette could be on their radar as part of their rebuilding plan. Matt Forte, who is 30 years old, and Bilal Powell are both essentially finesse running backs and the Jets need a power back to control the clock and be the foundation of their offense since the quarterback position is in flux going into the 2017 season.
Carolina Panthers- With the recent news of Cam Newton’s surgery to repair a partially torn right rotator cuff, it would seem to make logical sense for GM Dave Gettleman to strengthen the running game and draft Fournette with the 8th pick. Although Jonathan Stewart did receive a 1-year contract extension, he is 30 years old, has a well-known injury history, and the primary backups are Fozzy Whittaker and Cameron Artis-Payne. Fournette would bolster the ground game by being the short-yardage and goal line back instead of Newton.
Jacksonville Jaguars- On the surface it wouldn’t seem that the Jags would have any interest in Fournette since they did add Chris Ivory as a free agent last season, but new Director of Football Operations, Tom Coughlin, wants this offense to be more physical, bruising, and smash-mouth and they could believe that Fournette fits the profile more than Ivory. TJ Yeldon will remain the 3rd down, change-of-pace back for Jacksonville. Now, where does this leave Ivory in this possible scenario? A trade or outright release are two options the Jaguars may be open to.
Dalvin Cook | RB
Green Bay Packers- The Packers has startlingly little depth at the RB position and perhaps this is the year GM Ted Thompson decides to draft a multi-faceted running back with the 29th pick which will compliment Aaron Rodgers’ potent offense. Ty Montgomery, who spent the last half of the season in the backfield, will go into 2017 as a full-time running back but no one expects him to handle a full load and the recently re-signed Christine Michael, who always teases his ability, but rarely does it show up in a consistent manner. They are the only running backs under contract for Green Bay, therefore, adding Cook’s ability to play all 3-downs would be an invaluable asset to their offense in the long run. But first, he needs to master pass blocking or he’ll never get on the field.
Washington Redskins- At the 17th drafting slot, it may see a little bit of a reach for them to take Cook, but he has a chance to get opportunities immediately since the team hasn’t been given incumbent Robert Kelley the stamp of approval and named him the starting running back. Matt Jones, the other running back who did start the season, may be released or traded to make room for a rookie running back (like Cook perhaps). There will be a new look at the wide receiver position since both Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson left via free agency but replaced them with Terrelle Pryor and Brian Quick but they may need a consistent running game early in the season before the new targets get acclimated to Kirk Cousins and the Washington offense and that’s where Dalvin Cook can be very useful in controlling the clock or being an outlet in the passing game. Washington could use some playmaking/explosiveness in the backfield and Cook fits the bill nicely.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers- With the 4-game suspension of Doug Martin to begin the season, Tampa might be in the market for another younger, cheaper running back and Cook may be the answer. Yes, yes, I know that they re-signed Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims is still on the roster, but Dalvin Cook has the versatility to be on the field for all 3 downs and perhaps he can be Tampa’s consistent running game to go along with Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, Cameron Brate, and newly acquired DeSean Jackson and be a more diverse and explosive offense.
Christian McCaffrey | RB
Philadelphia Eagles- Let’s make no mistake about it: The Eagles running game needs an infusion of talent, toughness, and quickness to help the development of their second-year quarterback, Carson Wentz. Since the Eagles did upgrade the wide receiver corps with the signings of Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith, it would make logical sense for them to add a running back and they might use the 14th pick in the draft for the sole purpose to target McCaffrey because of his talent, versatility, and underrated toughness. He can be used as a receiver, punt/kickoff returner, or as a running back. The running back depth chart will not be as crowded as you would believe; Ryan Mathews might be released, Darren Sproles is 34 years old and is more dangerous as a punt returner and receiver out of the backfield, and Wendell Smallwood is the second year back trying to prove himself in the league. So if McCaffrey can make a mark for the Eagles during OTA’s, training camp, and the pre-season, he’s a weapon that could make the Eagles a more potent team in the NFC East.
Indianapolis Colts- Frank Gore is 34 years old and can’t continue being the starting running back forever; so the Colts new GM Chris Ballard should be looking for his heir apparent and if he should choose, selecting Andrew Luck’s fellow Stanford alum in McCaffrey would be a prudent choice. He would be an asset in the passing game since the Colts do like to use their running backs as outlets for Luck; his return game skills may take some unnecessary pounding off of TY Hilton, and he could make the Colts running game a viable option if the passing game were to struggle during the season.
Green Bay Packers- If the Packers decide to pass on Cook, drafting McCaffrey instead may even be a better fit with this rather potent passing offense. The virtual “swiss army knife” can be positioned anywhere on the field (backfield, slot, outside the numbers) and create mismatches for head coach Mike McCarthy to take advantage of and be a valuable weapon for Aaron Rodgers. His dynamic return skills can not only give the Packers offense great field position, it can allow Randall Cobb to focus 100 percent on becoming the best wide receiver he can be. As for the running game, it could be a dynamic 1-2 punch with Ty Montgomery in the beginning, but that may cap both of their fantasy ceilings, but he has the potential to be fantasy relevant.
Corey Davis | WR
Tennessee Titans- At first glance, it may seem odd that I have the Titans here as a possible landing spot for Davis, but let me explain my reasoning. Although their offensive profile is “exotic-smashmouth”, using one of the two first-round picks (likely the 18th pick), Tennessee drafting Davis would be a plus expected value move because he’s an additional weapon at the wide receiver position to go along with Rishard Matthews and he helps the franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota. The sooner Davis becomes the starter and becomes a tangible threat, the sooner defenses account for him and then the running game featuring DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry can REALLY go to town on opposing teams.
Arizona Cardinals- Eventually the Cardinals will need a replacement for the future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald who will turn 34 August 31st. Drafting 13th, Arizona may want to look at Davis as Fitzgerald’s possible heir apparent and another weapon to go along with John Brown, David Johnson, J.J. Nelson, and Jermaine Gresham for Carson Palmer to play with. It may be hard for Davis to crack the starting lineup when the season opens, but his performance during OTA’s and training camp may determine his snap count and target shares early in the season.
The possibility exists that he will come on in the second half of the year once he has a better grasp of the Cardinals’ offensive scheme. Keep him on your fantasy radar if for some reason an injury occurs in the wide receiver corps; he will get a definite snap count and target share increase.
Mike Williams | WR
Buffalo Bills- There’s a gaping hole at the wide receiver position and the Bills desperately need to fill it since they decided to re-sign Tyrod Taylor and make him their quarterback for the foreseeable future. Both Marquise Goodwin and Robert Woods, who spent their entire careers with the Bills, left via free agency. Their departure leaves a substantial number of targets to be filled and the depth chart behind incumbent Sammy Watkins leaves little to be desired so it’s extremely plausible that Williams could be the starter beside with Sammy for Week 1 of the regular season. Therefore his fantasy value would be as a solid WR2 since both of them will soak up all of the snaps and targets at the receiver position.
Baltimore Ravens- This is another team with a target vacuum at the wide receiver position with the retirement of Steve Smith, Sr. and the departure of Kamar Aiken. The presumed starters are the veteran speedster Mike Wallace and their 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman so there’s some chance for a drafted receiver (like Mike Williams) to get some snaps, targets, and receptions if they grasp the offense rather quickly. Under offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, the Ravens have become a much more passing team and Mike Williams should fit right in and become a fantasy relevant wide receiver in the range of a WR3 with WR2 upside.
Now let me leave you with one small bit of advice: When watching the coverage of the NFL Draft during the 3-day period, don’t overlook the Day 2 or Day 3 draft picks; they may wind up being fantasy football hidden gems that may help you to the elusive championship in the fall. Better yet, I’ll do the service of listing some of those players in Part 2 of my Rookie Symposium series.
Your fantasy football arm-chair GM,
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On Wednesday's edition of Treatment, the Helpers pick up where they left off talking about wide receiver ADP (average draft position) and who's under and overvalued. They talk of Andre Johnson and why you might want to stay away from him considering his current ADP. They also talk about Travis Kelce, Martellus Bennett and a few other tight ends who would be good to take in the later rounds.
On Tuesday's edition of Treatment, the Helpers discuss current ADP rankings for wide receivers according to Fantasy Football Calculator. They talk about the sophomore studs in Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin. They also talk about this year's rookies including top guy Amari Cooper and whether or not they would draft Nelson Agholor over Breshad Perriman. That, plus deep sleepers they like in the later rounds at the WR position in terms of ADP.
If you want to, feel free to look at the ADP rankings yourself and if you have a compelling case for a deep sleeper wide receiver let us know.
Tomorrow night, May 20th at 7:05pm EST we’re excited to announce Swing for the Fences! It’s only $3 to play, $300,000 is up for grabs (1st place will win $100,000), and the top 25,930 finishers will win a cash prize. Click anywhere in the paragraph to sign up.
On Thursday's edition of Treatment, the Helpers play a game where one person reads off the stats of a wide receiver and the other one guesses who the receiver is. They then give fantasy value to that receiver and talk about any potential pitfalls that may inhibit his production.
On Thursday's episode of the Treatment podcast, Reception Perception creator Matt Harmon stops by to talk about rookie wide receivers and which rookie wideouts in particular have the best potential for 2015. He also talks about certain qualities he looks for in good receivers, how mentality plays a role and how he feels about some of the younger wideouts in the league such as Odell Beckham Jr. and Allen Robinson. We wrap things up with Harmon's lukewarm feelings on the mexican food chain known as Chipotle.
We covered Miami's equally intriguing running back Duke Johnson last week and now want to talk about another Hurricanes fantasy prospects, and that's wide out Philip Dorsett.
Standing at 5'10 and weighing 195 lbs, one word comes to mind when you watch Dorsett play — speed. He may very well be the fastest receiver in this draft. He's undersized and flew largely under the radar during his first three seasons at Miami but unloaded an impressive 10 touchdown season his senior year to go along with 871 yards on 36 receptions.
Strengths: Top end speed, reliable hands.
Weaknesses: Blocking can be suspect at times, wasn't utilized much on short and intermediate routes in college, may struggle with the jam from bigger defenders.
Dorsett makes his money off the big play. He's not the type of receiver who racks up 13-15 catches a game and wears down the defense. He never had more than five catches in one game last season and averaged a crazy 24.2 yards per catch. His best outing came against Arkansas State where he racked up 201 receiving yards on just four catches. That's an average of 50 yards per catch.
When you watch Dorsett on film, he really impresses you with his straight line speed. He just blows by defenders with at times and will no doubt require NFL teams to keep a safety over the top, which could actually translate to better fantasy stats for the running back of whoever team lands Dorsett. We saw the kind of impact DeSean Jackson had on LeSean McCoy's stats in 2013 when McCoy won the rushing title. Having a speedy receiver that can clear out defenders is a great weapon to have, and Dorsett looks somebody who can produce a similar result.
Dorsett looks like a one-trick pony type of receiver as of right now, but that one trick is pretty good. Wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Mike Wallace, two players who also value the nine route above all other plays, have proven very effective fantasy options despite not being viewed as complete receivers. Both Jackson and Wallace have turned in 1,000-yard seasons multiple times. The one thing you'll probably suffer from if you draft Dorsett is inconsistency, as he'll likely struggle at times especially if he goes to a team without an elite running back and they keep safeties over the top of him throughout the game.
Where he fits best
If Al Davis was still running things in Oakland, you can almost bet the house Dorsett would be getting selected by the Raiders in this year's draft. Oakland actually might not be a bad fit considering quarterback Derek Carr has great deep ball accuracy which would play to Dorsett's strengths. But with Oakland getting such a high pick and the team also in dire need of a true franchise receiver, it's more likely they go with a polished prospect like Devante Parker, Amari Cooper or Kevin White if they do in fact go the wide receiver rout.
With that, it's possible Dorsett slips to the bottom portion of the first round or even later. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as we saw players like Jordan Matthews benefit from getting selected on Day 2 as they ended up on a better team with a good offense already in place. We always stress that quarterback play is one of the biggest factors in determining whether or not a receiver will have success, and since we don't know where Dorsett will end up, we can only predict his likelihood for NFL success based on his own skill set. Dorsett will play his best if he finds a quarterback who can throw the ball down the field consistently well.
On Friday's edition of Treatment, Matt Harmon of Footballguys stops by to talk about the development of his new product 'Reception Perception' which will be released sometime during the summer in 2015. 'Reception Perception' will focus on an in depth analysis of every fantasy relevant wide receiver and paint an reflection of exactly what is going on in a player's game film. This product will be free for the first year and Harmon plans to release it annually. You can read more about the project here and also check out examples of Harmon's past wide receiver articles here.
Matt immediately gets into the project in the beginning of the pod. He's been developing the content throughout the 2014 season and already has a bevy of articles under his belt including Jeremy Maclin, Julio Jones, Josh Gordon and Odell Beckham Jr. You can check out his page here. He first started with Jordy Nelson and Cordarrelle Paterson through his process. Paterson and Nelson are two very different receivers, with Nelson being athe more polished receiver and Paterson serving as the more raw, athletic wideout. He usually finds the players that are coming off some interesting games or are about to break out.
On top of the NFL players, Harmon is currently focusing on college players and already has one article on Alabama wideout Amari Cooper. Widely considered the top receiver in this year's 2015 NFL Draft class, Cooper is the main subject of the podcast and serves as the first example of what Harmon's 'Reception Perception' will be about.
When analyzing Cooper's skill set, Harmon focuses on a variety of factors including contested catch rate, drop rate, amount of targets, rout analysis, and tackle breaking measurements. He then translates all this data to give you an idea of what Cooper can be at the NFL level.
For fantasy football purposes, there's plenty of analysis within 'Reception Perception' that can be helpful to those looking to draft certain players to their fantasy teams whether it be in dynasty or redraft leagues. For dynasty purposes, you'll want to pay attention to Harmon's rookie wide receiver articles more for obvious reasons, but you'll also find plenty of information that may make you think twice about drafting a certain player.
One of the bigger factors that can really make or break an NFL receiver (and Harmon goes into this in his articles) is consistency in getting off bump and run coverages. A lot of young receivers lack the upper body strength to shed big, physical cornerbacks which often leads to them getting off track in their route and can really limit their ability to get open consistently. Plenty of wide receivers have struggled with that in the past and often times the ones who don't end up with the most targets and ultimately the most receptions. Harmon's analysis will show you which receiver has the most success getting off the bump and run.
The other big factor is contested catch success rate. Often times, wide receivers don't get wide open on a play and will have to make a catch in traffic. Harmon's analysis takes into account how many successful catches a receiver makes with defenders draped on him, and uses Odell Beckham Jr.'s as a guy who lacks size but consistently possesses the 'my ball' mentality and goes up and catches the ball despite being covered. It's an underrated trait that a lot of successful receivers possess and Harmon makes sure to cover that in his articles.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattHarmonBYB
Sammy Watkins delivered for those who took the risk and went against the age-old notion that rookie receivers rarely produce quality numbers. But despite a respectable 65/982/6 line, there were several factors that prevented him from having one of the best seasons for a rookie wide receiver in recent memory.
When it comes to redrafting Watkins onto your team next season, there are already several wheels in motion that will affect his value for 2015.
In what could end up going down in history as one of the greatest wide receiver drafts of all time, rookie WRs Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin all finished with over 1,000 receiving yards in their first year. All three receivers were first round talents, but they weren't the ones who drew the biggest hype.
That distinction belonged to Watkins, a 6'1 phenom who possessed blazing 4.34 speed and considerable size at 211 lbs. He had all the playmaking tools you want out of a franchise receiver. Watkins ended up being the first receiver taken off the board at No. 4 overall by the Buffalo Bills, a team that endured a big risk to get him after they surrenderd a 2015 first and fourth round pick to move up from the No. 9 spot.
Unfortunately for Watkins, being taken that high in the draft usually means the team you play for is still a ways away from being any good, and that was definitely the case with the Buffalo offense. Watkins landed on a team that had a young, unproven quarterback in E.J. Manuel, an offense geared more toward the run without a premier running back to take the pressure off the receivers and to top it all off, a below average offensive line that put increased pressure on quarterbacks.
But even with the obstacles that came with being on a sub par team, Watkins set record team rookie marks in receptions (65) and receiving yards (982) and also netted six touchdowns. Those numbers are impressive for any rookie receiver, but you can't help but feel like you missed out on the Beckham Jr./Evans party considering both receivers had double the touchdown total of Watkins when all was said and done. Those one-handed preseason catches were probably enough to sway a lot of fantasy football players to draft him though, so it's understandable. I mean, look at this.
But even though he managed to string together a decent rookie year, it does leave the question. With so much uncertainty in Buffalo right now thanks a departed quarterback in Kyle Orton and a new coaching staff that favors the run over the pass, is Watkins the last receiver you would take in your fantasy draft this season among Beckham Jr., Benjamin, Evans and maybe even Brandin Cooks?
Leaving touchdowns on the table early
When the Bills drafted Watkins, it was a move designed specifically to get the developing Manuel some help. Manuel struggled early on during his rookie season, and eventually suffered a knee njury which led to him only playing in 10 games.
Watkins and Manuel didn't exactly light the world on fire in the beginning of 2014, but they didn't flounder either. Watkins eclipsed 100 yards receiving in just his second game of the season, catching eight passes for 117 yards and a touchdown against Miami in what was perhaps Manuel's best game of the season.
But if you watched that Miami game and had Watkins on your fantasy team, you couldn't help but be a little frustrated. Manuel missed Watkins on what would've been a sure touchdown to a wide open Watkins down the seam. Manuel also failed the punch the ball in when the Bills' defense frequently gave his offense fantastic field position and settled for three Dan Carpenter field goals instead. Manuel even had the ball on the 20 yard line after the Bills blocked a punt and still couldn't find a way to get a score. It wasn't so much that Manuel played bad, he just didn't thrive like you would've expected.
Sidenote: Buffalo finished 30th in red zone efficiency on the season, scoring just 43% of the time which stifled Watkins' ability to score the all important touchdown consistently. He finished with just six touchdowns in his first season and if the Bills can find a quarterback who can consistently score in the red zone, then those numbers will obviously go up. It's not out of the question that Watkins could be in line for a 1,500 yard, 12-plus touchdown season if the Bills can get the right guy under center. That of course, is a big if because of the following.
Manuel's benching, enter Kyle Orton
After Manuel's completion percentage took a considerable dip in losses to San Diego and Houston, the coaches soon lost faith that he was their guy and signed veteran game manager Kyle Orton to take center.
Orton was thrust into the starting role after only starting one game a season ago in the Dallas Cowboys' season finale against Philadelphia. Orton and the Cowboys lost that game, but the veteran did put up a 358 passing yards to go along with two touchdowns. He seemed like he was a better fit to help move the offense down the field and therefore increase Watkins' fantasy value.
Watkins takes off
When Orton was offcially named the starter against Detroit, the Bills instantly became an offense more capable putting up bigger passing stats which led to Watkins having some of his best games as a rookie.
While it took a few games for Watkins to develop chemistry with Orton, Watkins flourished midway through the season in Weeks 7 and 8. He torched the Minnesota Vikings for 122 yards and two scores, which was the first and only multiple touchdown game he had all season.
A week later against a bad New York Jets secondary in Week 8, Watkins got behind the defense consistently and finished with three catches for 157 yards and a touchdown. However, he showboated too early on a long pass he caught in the first half which resulted in him getting dragged down from behind at the ten yard line by a hustling Darrin Walls. Chalk it up as a rookie mistake, but it was just another touchdown left on the table for Watkins.
Despite a few lapses in focus, the two-game stretch of nearly 400 receiving yards was incredibly impressive and offered those a glimpse at just how dominant Watkins can be with a couple of good matchups and a quarterback who's playing well.
Injuries/drop in numbers
Despite a quick spike numbers midway through the season, Watkins and the Bills offense quickly fell back to earth almost immediately after their dominating 43-23 win against the Jets. Watkins failed to catch for more than 35 receiving yards over the next four games, eventually injuring his hip against the Browns which was one of several nagging injuries that plagued his rookie campaign. Watkins had already been slowed by several other ailments including broken ribs earlier in the season.
He did manage one more 100 yard game against the Denver Broncos in December, which served as his final exclamation point performance of 2014. But he was held largely in check against Green Bay (1 catch for 6 yards) and Darrelle Revis against New England (3 catches for 57 yards) in the final games of the season.
Orton slowly regressed as the season went along as well, posting a 6:7 TD-to-INT ratio in his last five outings. Overall, Watkins finished the season with 128 targets, which ranked 23rd in the league. He finished with a 51 percent catch rate according to Football Outsiders, which was lower than Beckham Jr's incredible 70 percent and Evans' 55 percent. A very good season overall though.
Offensive line issues
Not helping Watkins and the Bills offense was the fact that their offensive line struggled most of the season, especially early on at the guard spot which led to them being ranked among the worst offensive lines in the league for the first quarter of the season. Still, the offensive line did get better as the season went along, which led to them eventually being ranked 19th overall in pass protection according to Football Outsiders. Not terrible, but definitely some room for improvement there.
Marrone's surprise departure
Former Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone expressed in regards to Buffalo's trading up in the 2014 draft to snag phenom wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
Even if you put on your hindsight 20/20 spectacles for a minute, it's still hard to understand Marrone's concern with the move. Watkins turned out to be a very solid rookie and the Bills nearly the made the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. If anything, it was the reach for Manuel in the first round that set the Bills back. It'll be interesting to see if Manuel is given a second chance under the new coaching staff and we see a Jim Harbaugh/Alex Smith-like resurgence.
The hiring of Rex Ryan
Per Yahoo! sports, recently fired New York Jets coach Rex Ryan became the new head coach in Buffalo earlier this week, and former San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman is expected to take over the offense.
We have a pretty good idea of who Ryan is as a coach at this point. He's a defensive guru who took two Jets teams to back-to-back AFC Championships in 2009 and 2010. Ryan's winning formula often emphasizes pounding the ball up the gut with running backs while relying on a strong defense. The downside to his style is he often keeps the quarterback under wraps and doesn't like to take big risks down field, which can lead to little reward for offensive playmakers.
What the new coaches mean for Watkins' fantasy value
It's Ryan's ground and pound style that makes an OC like Roman a good fit for the overall coaching staff since they share the same offensive philosophies, but it might hurt Watkins if they don't adapt. Roman spent the last four seasons running a run heavy offense in San Francisco that had a great offensive line and a workhorse running back in Frank Gore.
The Bills have neither of those right now. Their main strength is at wide receiver with Robert Woods and Watkins. It'll be interesting to see if Roman is a good fit for Buffalo, but he'll likely have to adjust a bit and look to get the receivers more involved than he did in San Francisco if we expect Watkins to have a WR1-type fantasy year.
With Orton announcing his retirement earlier in the week, it's obvious Watkins' ADP for 2015 will mostly hinge on the talent of the guy under center as well.
Final verdict/2015 outlook
Watkins flashed some brilliance with his dazzling one-handed grabs during the preseason and his numbers took off like a rocket over a two-game stretch midway through the season but he left a little to be desired considering his talent is off the charts.
Consistency will likely be his next goal, as injuries, poor quarterback play, a few mental lapses on his part and an average offensive line played a role in keeping his numbers from reaching those of Evans and Beckham Jr.
It's only been one season, but Watkins certainly doesn't look like a bust, so drafting him in fantasy a solid WR2/3 is the best option at this point. A lot can change in the offseason, and if the Bills have a lot of questions they'll have to answer with a new coaching staff and a hole at the quarterback position.
Editor's note: Our bullet point articles are written to better explain our weekly rankings, which you can find here.
The playoffs, we know they're here. We know what you need. So here are our bullet points for RBs this week.
Starts of this week
Jamaal Charles vs. Oakland, Matt Forte vs. New Orleans, Le'Veon Bell at Atlanta — #1, #2, and #3 in weekly rankings
It was really difficult to pick any of these guys for the top start, so we figured just go with all three. If you're lucky enough to have snagged two of them in your draft, you're sitting on a gold mine in Week 15. The only thing you have to worry about is Charles, who is a bit banged up with an ankle injury he suffered last week. Still, Andy Reid expects Charles to be a full go for Week 15.
When it comes to Forte, the New Orleans Saints have allowed 15 rushing touchdowns this season, which is tied for second worst in the league behind Atlanta. They allow a third-worst 21.5 points to fantasy running backs and are also in the bottom 10 against receivers, which is good for Forte as well considering he's a PPR dreamboat. Sorry....got a little carried away there.
Forte has dropped off a bit over the last two games so you may be a little concerned heading into Week 15. He averaged just 2.0 yards per carry against a suspect Dallas defense and understandably struggled against the best run defense in Detroit on Thanksgiving. Still, when he isn't feeding you the steak in the run game, he's supplementing it with some mean potatoes in the passing game. With 25 receptions over his last four games, you can count on Forte to continue to catch at least five passes per game and add 40-80 receiving yards on top of it. Even better, a 10-12 catch games is the ceiling for this guy, which is a skill sket you just can't get out of any fantasy running back.
As for Bell, you already know he's morphed into a superstar this season. He's coming off his best fantasy performance of the year against Cincinnati, where he totaled over 230 yards and three touchdowns combined rushing and receiving. His soft schedule has helped him out there's no question, not unlike LeSean McCoy's schedule down the stretch helped him win the rushing title last season. Bell will be going against an Atlanta defense that gives up the most fantasy points in the league to running backs (22.3 per game). The Falcons also allow the most rushing touchdowns in the NFL (17) and also allow 122 yards per game.
Mark Ingram at Chicago — #11 in weekly rankings
Da......Bears da Bears da Bears da Bears...have struggled on defense this season. They allowed Lions running back Joique Bell to rattle off a season-high 91 yards on Thanksgiving. They also allowed 196 yards and two touchdowns to Dallas over a week before. Ingram is coming off a dud game against Carolina and the Saints offense has been inconsistent throughout the year, but the trend with Ingram has consisted of one bad game followed by one good game. There's no reason he can't produce well in the flex spot this week. Roll with him.
Isaiah Crowell at Cincinnati — #17 in weekly rankings
Crowell is among our favorite waiver pickups and also among are favorite most frustrating start or sit options for 2014 (aside from maybe Kenny Stills). Crowell rewarded those who started him with 11 fantasy points last week and while Terrance West may see more carries than he did a week before, Crowell remains the most talented of the bunch with his 4.4 yards per carry average to go along with eight touchdowns. The Bengals are fourth worst against running backs, allowing 21.2 points per game.
Le'Veon Bell just gashed them for nearly 200 yards rushing and you have to figure with rookie Johnny Manziel starting today, the Browns may go run heavy if he struggles. Expect Crowell to see anywhere between 15-17 carries and come close to 100 yards and a touchdown today. Start him with confidence.
Our bullet point articles are written to help better explain our weekly rankings, which you can find here.
Start of the Week
DeAndre Hopkins v. Tennessee Titans #20 Weekly Rankings
Hopkins owners were probably starting to get a little bit nervous about the talented second year wide receiver, but this is the week I expect him to bounce back. After a torn pectoral muscle landed Ryan Mallett on injured reserve, the Texans offense will once again turn to Ryan Fitzpatrick and his beard to run the show.
While the move back to Fitzpatrick likely means a frustrated Andre Johnson, Hopkins could once again have a chance to show off his big-play ability in the Texans offense. In weeks 1-10 when Fitzpatrick was the Texans' starting quarterback, Hopkins was featured as the vertical threat, leading the team in yards-per-reception with 16.3 compared to just 13.2 when Mallett was under center. Hopkins was also more of a scoring threat, catching all four of his touchdowns on the year when Fitzpatrick started. When Mallett took over, a lot of people assumed that because of his big arm, it would immediately translate over to game play, but both Hopkins and Johnson saw their average yards per reception drop when Mallett was starting.
What a better way to bounce back from a mild slump in terms of fantasy production than a matchup with the Titans' woeful secondary. With Andre Johnson dealing with Jason McCourty all afternoon, I expect Hopkins to be featured more heavily in the game plan. Hopkins will presumably line up against third-year cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who Pro Football Focus has rated as the third-worst cornerback in the NFL(-10.4). PFF also ranks Wreh-Wilson in the top-10 in terms of receiving touchdowns allowed (5). Wreh-Wilson missed week 12 due to a back injury, and his replacement Coty Sensabaugh was no more effective, allowing 8 receptions for 81 yards against the Eagles. As you can see, regardless of who lines up as the Titans' other starting corner opposite Jason McCourty, they're susceptible to above average fantasy days. Start Hopkins with confidence this week.
Jarvis Landry v. New York Jets #27 Weekly Rankings
After carving up short/intermediate area of the field against the Broncos to a line of 7/50/2, Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry was a hot commodity on the waiver wire this week. Now after posting four touchdowns in his last four games, Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins' offense gets the pleasure of matching up against the traveling circus that is the New York Jets.
In the last four weeks, Landry has established himself as Tannehill’s safety blanket, catching 82% of the 29 targets thrown his way over the last four weeks. In addition to leading the Dolphins in targets, over the last four weeks Landry is leading the team in receptions (24), receiving yards (192) and touchdowns (4). With Tannehill continuing to struggle to drive the ball down field, Landry’s value will continue to grow within the Dolphins offense. All but 9 of Landry’s targets have been within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, so as long as Tannehill continues to struggle with his deep ball (PFF’s 25th rated QB Deep Ball Accuracy) Landry should continue to be the primary target in the Bill Lazor’s offense.
Charles Johnson v. Carolina Panthers #30 Weekly Rankings
It's hard to imagine a player that has only been with a team since week 5 can come in and establish himself as the team’s top receiving option, but that's exactly what Vikings’ wide receiver Charles Johnson after being signed off the Browns practice squad before week four.
After leading playing 67 of the team’s 69 snaps in week 12 and leading the Vikings leading receiver, Charles Johnson has established himself as the No. 1 receving option in the Vikings offense. After seeing a total of 12 targets in the previous four games in which he saw action, Johnson has seen 17 in the last two weeks.
Now going up against one of the worst secondary units in the NFL, Johnson has a chance to have another big afternoon. Pro Football Focus ranks the Panthers secondary as fifth worst ranked unit in term’s of pass coverage (-35.0). The Panther’s defense has not been any better from a fantasy standpoint either, as they are giving up the 6th most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers on a weekly basis.
One more little tid-bit for fantasy owners looking for potential sleeper option; both of the Panthers' starting cornerbacks, Antoine Cason and Melvin White, have allowed passer ratings of 116.5 and 129.5 respectively on passes thrown their way this season.
Greg Olsen v. Minnesota Vikings #6 Weekly Rankings
I am sure that when Olsen owners see his name on this list some of you want to reach through you computer screens and smack me in the face, but I think you guys need to temper your expectations for the tight end this weekend. Under the Leslie Frazier regime, the Minnesota Vikings defense was one of the worst units in the league against opposing tight ends, ranking as the second-worst unit against the position in 2013. Now with Mike Zimmer running the show in the Twin Cities, the Vikings' defense has become one of the elite units against the tight end this season.
The Minnesota Vikings defense has allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends this season. It's not like the team has played against a bunch of scrubs either, going up against the likes of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski this season. In those games against Graham and Gronkowski, neither of the two were able to top 60 receiving yards or score a touchdown against the Vikings defense.
I understand that outside of Kelvin Benjamin, Olsen is the only pass-catcher on the Panthers roster that has any fantasy relevance, but I have feeling he has a chance to be a fantasy bust this weekend. Olsen still has the workload potential to put forth a solid game, around 5/50/0 would be my prediction, but if you're looking for a guy to explode this week I do not think Olsen is your answer.