Original Post: February 10, 2016
Denver Broncos (12-4; 1st in AFC West)
Peyton Manning – Manning has the chance to go out on top after winning his second Super Bowl, but he said following the game that he’ll take his time with the decision. Super Bowl 50 may have been Peyton’s “last rodeo,” but he clearly hasn’t been the same Peyton physically the last two seasons, which will certainly factor into his decision. He also has the HGH story still hanging over his head, so it doesn’t make a ton of sense for him to return for a 19th season at 40 years old. Still, he gave the Broncos a chance to win a title in the playoffs by not making mistakes, leaving it to his top-ranked defense to take care of business. Manning had just 1 INT after he was inserted back into the lineup in the second half of Week Seven, this after he tossed 17 INTs in his first nine games. Manning finished the year completing 198/331 passes (59.8%) for 2249 yards, 9 TDs, and 17 INTs for 14.8 FPG (33rd) in 10 games. He averaged just 6.8 YPA and a miserable .45 FP per attempt (league average was .54 FP/attempt for QBs), which puts him ahead of only Nick Foles among QBs with 250+ attempts. He missed six games this season because of a torn plantar fascia in his left foot, and his arm strength has been dwindling for some time now. The Broncos won’t bring Manning back at his scheduled $19-million salary, and there’s been some rumblings that a team like the L.A. Rams would be interested in Peyton if he decides to play another season. Still, it was such a struggled for Manning to stay healthy this season that we’d lean heavily toward Peyton hanging it up after his Super Bowl victory.
Brock Osweiler – Osweiler arguably played better than Peyton Manning in the regular season, but the Broncos turned back to their veteran QB starting in the second half of Week Seventeen and they can’t argue with the postseason results…a Super Bowl title. Osweiler flashed quite a few times with some big-time throws, but he also struggled to move the offense or long chunks of time. His performance against the Steelers in Week Fifteen perfectly encapsulated his tenure as the starting QB. He torched them for 4 first-half TDs and then struggled to move the offense in the second half. Osweiler finished the year completing 170/275 passes for 1967 yards, 10 TDs, and 6 INTs and he added 21/61/1 rushing for 18.8 FPG (29th) in 8 games. Osweiler averaged 7.2 YPA and .55 FP per attempt (league average was .54 FP/attempt for QBs). He finished with 20+ FP in just two of his seven starts, so he wasn’t exactly a fantasy-caliber QB, even with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders at his disposal. The Broncos are staring at an ugly QB situation if Peyton retires and they let walk Osweiler walk, so all indications are that they want to re-sign the fourth-year QB. The question is does Osweiler intend to return to Denver or does he look for a new situation.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Was the Super Bowl Peyton’s “last rodeo” or does he have one more year left? Will the Broncos make free-agent Osweiler their starting QB for the future?
C.J. Anderson – Obviously, no one who spent a first- or second-round pick on Anderson in August of 2015 is going to say he had a good season. Playing in 15 games, Anderson posted 152/720/5 rushing (4.7 YPC) and 25/183/0 receiving on 36 targets (69.4%, 7.3 YPR). He averaged 9.7 FPG, which ranked him 45th among all RBs. For the season, Anderson essentially split down the middle with Ronnie Hillman – he played 48.5% of Denver’s offensive snaps to Hillman’s 47.3%. That clearly wasn’t Gary Kubiak’s intention, as Anderson played 74% of the Broncos’ offensive snaps in Week One. But he was totally ineffective, dealing with toe and ankle injuries. Anderson averaged under 4.0 YPC in each of his first six games of the year, posting under 10 FP in his first five games. But Anderson rested up over the Broncos’ Week Seven bye, and over the final nine games of his season (he sat out Week Fourteen with an ankle injury), no back in football averaged more than Anderson’s 6.4 YPC, though he averaged just 9.4 carries per game over this span. The irony here is that Anderson received 10 or more carries in five of his first six games, when he was wholly ineffective. But he saw that number in just four of his final nine, despite being significantly more useful on a per-carry basis than was Hillman (3.8 YPC over same span, with 141 carries). As a result, Anderson averaged just 11.6 FPG over that final stretch, with a large portion of that coming in his 31.3-FP Week Twelve outing against New England. In all, Anderson was more useful than Hillman in pretty much every measurable area down the stretch and in the playoffs, though he played fewer snaps than Hillman in seven of his final nine games of the regular season. A “bowling ball” type of runner with surprising home-run speed, Anderson’s season got off on the wrong foot (no pun intended), and the Broncos advanced to the Super Bowl despite playing a clearly ineffective Hillman over him on plenty of occasions. It ruined plenty of fantasy seasons, but didn’t injure the Broncos’ chances too badly – Kubiak figured out Anderson was his best back in Super Bowl, using him almost exclusively over Hillman in the big game. A restricted free agent, the Broncos would be wise to bring Anderson back, especially since Hillman is unrestricted.
Ronnie Hillman – For a large part of the season, Hillman operated as Denver’s lead back despite being outplayed by C.J. Anderson. But he touched the ball enough to have fantasy relevance. In 16 games, he posted 207/863/7 rushing (4.2 YPC) and 24/111/0 receiving on 35 targets (60%, 4.6 YPR). He averaged 10.2 FPG to rank 39th among all RBs. Nine times on the year, Hillman posted 10 or more FP, including in Weeks Sixteen and Seventeen. He had four games of 100 or more rushing yards, scoring a TD in three of those four games. However, he was a poor receiver, so he didn’t have any more games with 100 or more yards from scrimmage. All that said though (and while also acknowledging that Anderson was the better player for most of the year), Hillman was useful for fantasy. After falling below 10 FP in each of his first three games, he topped that number in nine of the last 13, which is a pretty solid level of consistent for a guy who played just 47.3% of his teams’ offensive snaps. Still, Hillman was generally inefficient. He averaged just 0.71 FP/touch, below the league average of 0.81, and below Anderson’s 0.82. Over the second half of the year, Anderson averaged 6.5 YPC to Hillman’s 3.8. Despite this, Hillman played more snaps than Anderson in seven of Anderson’s final nine games. This all changed in the playoffs, when Hillman posted an atrocious 54 yards on 32 carries (1.7 YPC), and Anderson clearly took over as the top back by the time the Super Bowl came around. Late in the season, Hillman battled through a foot injury, which may have contributed to his poor playoff output, but overall he just was outplayed by Anderson at the end of the year. An unrestricted free agent, Hillman shouldn’t be a priority for the Broncos this off-season.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Will Anderson, a restricted free agent, be a priority for the Broncos this off-season? Will the Broncos bring Hillman, an unrestricted free agent, back?
Demaryius Thomas – Demaryius somehow managed to be kind of terrible in real life and still good for fantasy at the same time this year. Thomas finished the year as the #13 fantasy WR, but he was actually in a prolonged funk for most of the season, with sloppy drops and routes. He had one of the worst performances of any skill player this season back in Week Twelve, catching just 1 of his 13 targets (7.7% catch rate) against the Patriots. Thomas capped off his shaky year against top CB Josh Norman in the Super Bowl, managing just 1/8 receiving on 6 targets. DT finished the year with 105/1304/6 receiving on 174 targets (60.3% catch rate, 12.4 YPC) for 17.0 FPG (13th) in 16 games. Thomas played on 84.5% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.56 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). His streak of double-digit TDs ended after three seasons, but he still remained a consistent fantasy option – 10+ FP in 15 games – despite his shaky play at times. Thomas just turned 28 at the end of December and is still one of the elite athletes at the position, but the Broncos will have a major question mark at quarterback this off-season with the futures of Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler up in the air. Thomas finished the playoffs with just 6/58 and he had just 1 TD with Manning at QB. A potential switch to Osweiler, which seems to be the most likely scenario, could be exactly what Thomas needs to get going as a threat after the catch and as a downfield target.
Emmanuel Sanders – Sanders has proven to be quite the #2 WR in Denver in his first two seasons, and he’s actually been the more stable option at times over Demaryius Thomas. Sanders carried this passing game through the playoffs to a Super Bowl title, with DT pretty much non-existent. Sanders finished the year with 76/1135/6 receiving on 136 targets (55.9% catch rate, 14.9 YPC) for 15.2 FPG (22nd) in 15 games. He missed a game in Week Eleven and was hindered by a high-ankle injury in the middle of the season, which also resulted in a goose egg in Week Ten. He failed to hit 10 FP in five games, but he managed 14+ FP in his other 10 appearances. Sanders played on 82.6% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.68 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). The Broncos will have a major question mark at quarterback this off-season with the futures of Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler up in the air. Sanders had two shaky performances with Osweiler, the most likely starter in 2016, in Weeks 13-14, but the two started to show better chemistry in his final three starts with 19/347/2, especially on downfield throws. Sanders, who will turn 29 in March, has managed consecutive 1000-yard seasons to start his Denver career, and he should stay pretty active next year no matter who ends up as the starting QB.
Cody Latimer – If you forgot about Latimer this season, apparently so did the Broncos. HC Gary Kubiak and VP John Elway talked up Latimer last spring and even into training camp, but it was all just talk as Latimer couldn’t even beat out Jordan Norwood, Bennie Fowler, and Andre Caldwell for more playing time. The 2014 2nd-round pick had just 6/59/1 receiving on 10 targets (60% catch rate, 9.8 YPC) in 14 games. Latimer has just 8 catches in his first two seasons and needs to start making contributions in 2016 or he is going to go down as a major bust for the Broncos. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders aren’t going anywhere, and Kubiak runs a lot of 2-TE sets, so Latimer will have his work cut out to make an impact in 2016.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Can Demaryius put his sloppy 2015 campaign behind him and become a stud once again? Can Sanders stick around in the WR2 conversation even with a change at QB potentially looming? Will Latimer ever warrant some playing time?
Owen Daniels – Daniels will be most remembered in 2015 for roasting stud athlete Jamie Collins for 2 double-move TDs in the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots. Other than those two plays, it was a pretty nondescript season the veteran TE, who will turn 34 next season. Daniels followed his long-time coach Gary Kubiak to Denver, taking over in Julius Thomas old spot. Daniels finished the year with 46/517/3 receiving on 77 targets (59.7% catch rate, 11.2 YPC) for 7.2 FPG (27th) in 16 games. He played on 74.6% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.50 FP per target (league average was 1.65 FP/target for TEs). Daniels was still a pretty reliable receiver and blocker in his 10th season, but he can no longer make many plays with his feet after the catch. The Broncos have plenty of decisions to make this off-season with free agents, and they could save $2.5 million by cutting Daniels. Still, Kubiak obviously trusts Daniels and Jeff Heuerman will likely still need a season before he’s trusted, so Daniels should still be the top TE on the depth chart at the start of training camp.
Jeff Heuerman – The Broncos selected Heuerman in the 3rd round, and he promptly tore his left ACL in rookie minicamp, just days after his selection. He underwent surgery later in May 2015, so he should be more than ready for the Broncos off-season program. Heuerman started three seasons at Ohio State but had just 52 career catches, and he’s definitely a stronger blocker than he is a receiver. Still, he was underused as a receiver in college and as enough athletic ability to develop into a dependable target.
Virgil Green –Green has established himself as a blocker first and as a receiver a distant second in his five-year career. He actually posted career-best number with just 12/173/1 receiving on 15 targets (80% catch rate, 14.4 YPC) for 2.2 FPG in 16 games. The Broncos traded for Vernon Davis in the middle of the season to try upgrade over Green in their 2-TE sets with Owen Daniels, but Green ended up playing ahead of Davis anyway down the stretch in the postseason. Green will once again look to play in Gary Kubiak’s TE-friendly offense, but he’ll need to hold of Jeff Heuerman next preseason for the majority of the playing time.
Vernon Davis – The Broncos acquired Davis and a 2016 7th-round at the trade deadline for 2016 and 2017 6th-round picks. Well, VP John Elway could’ve saved those picks as Vernon could barely even get on the field in the postseason – he played just 19 snaps in three preseason games. Davis finished the year with 38/395/0 receiving on 57 targets (66.7% catch rate, 10.4 YPC) for 6.0 FPG in 13 games. He played on 46.4%of the snaps with the Broncos and averaged 1.36 FP per target (league average was 1.65 FP/target for TEs). Davis, who just turned 32 at the end of January, looks well past his prime as both a receiver and as a blocker. We can’t imagine he’ll have much of a market as a free agent this off-season.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Will Daniels hang around another season as the team’s top TE? Can Heuerman climb the depth chart after a lost rookie season? Where will Vernon land?
Key Free Agents
QB Brock Osweiler, RB C.J. Anderson (RFA), RB Ronnie Hillman, TE Vernon Davis, OLB Von Miller, ILB Danny Trevathan, ILB Brandon Marshall (RFA), K Brandon McManus (ERFA) WR Jordan Norwood, WR Bennie Fowler (ERFA), WR Andre Caldwell, WR Kyle Williams, LT Ryan Harris, C Matt Paradis (ERFA), OG Evan Mathis, DE Malik Jackson, DE Derek Wolfe, FS Omar Bolden, SS David Bruton.
Kansas City Chiefs (11-6; 2nd in AFC West)
Alex Smith – Smith once again proved that he’s just an above average NFL quarterback. He helped the Chiefs to reel off 11 straight wins, including a Wild Card Round victory, but he did little more than manage them to victories. He’s posted remarkably similar passing numbers in his first three seasons with the Chiefs, but he had 35 more carries for 244 more rushing yards to boost his fantasy value. He finished completing 307/470 passes for 3486 yards, 20 TDs, and 7 INTs and he added 84/498/2 rushing for 19.8 FPG (25th). Smith averaged 7.4 YPA and an impressive .67 FP per attempt (league average was .54 FP/attempt for QBs). The Chiefs got off to a 1-5 start, but he started to counter blitz and stunts by scrambling, which helped them in their winnings streak. He had just 124/0 rushing in their first seven games and 374/2 in their final nine games. WR Jeremy Maclin did help expand this offense, and Smith threw it better downfield than we’ve seen in probably his entire career. Still, Smith continues to play within himself – he went nine straight games without an interception – and Andy Reid wants to control the ball and rely on his defense. Smith is never going to be a QB1, but he’ll flirt with be a streaming QB option at times.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Can Smith be a high-end QB2 if he gets his young receivers more involved? Who will be the backup QB next season with Chase Daniel hitting free agency?
Jamaal Charles – Charles was well on his way to another excellent fantasy season, before a torn ACL (his second, each in a different knee) robbed him of the final 11 games of the 2015 season. In five games, though, Charles posted 71/364/4 rushing (5.1 YPC), with 21/177/1 receiving on 30 targets (70%, 8.4 YPR). He averaged 21.0 FPG, which, for a full season, would have ranked him #2 among all RBs. Charles played 78.1% of the Chiefs’ snaps in five games, so he was overwhelmingly their back of choice. Charles ran for 100 yards in one game, but had 100 or more yards from scrimmage in two more. He posted over 20 FP in each of his first four games, prior to getting hurt in Week Five. Charles is due over $5 million in 2016, and just turned 29, GM John Dorsey told ESPN NFL Nation’s Adam Teicher that he expects Charles back next year, and if there’s any saving grace about his second torn ACL in five seasons, it’s that it also came early in the year. He may be ready to go by camp, which will make his draft status come August interesting.
Charcandrick West – In all in 2015, West played in 15 games and posted 160/634/4 receiving (4.0 YPC) and 20/214/1 receiving on 33 targets (60.6%, 10.7 YPR). He averaged 9.0 FPG, which ranked him 53rd among all RBs. But his “full season” just doesn’t come close to telling the tale for West. A little-used backup in the first four weeks of the season, following the injury to Jamaal Charles, West took over as the Chiefs’ top back, at least for some time. West worked as the no-doubt top back from Week Six through Week Eleven, a five-game stretch, until a hamstring injury sidelined him for Week Twelve. In that five-game span, West averaged 17.5 FPG, which tied him for 7th among RBs in that time. He played 78.3% of the offensive snaps over that time, and had over 100 yards from scrimmage three times. But he went down late in Week Eleven, missed Week Twelve, and then split time with Spencer Ware the rest of the season. In his final five games of the year, West averaged just 7.9 FPG, catching just 6 passes for 15 yards over that five-game span, with just one double-digit game (with Ware an “active” inactive in Week Fifteen). West returned as the Chiefs’ lead back in the divisional round of the playoffs with Ware injured, and played well in a Chiefs’ loss. He’s a versatile back with excellent speed, and is an excellent backup for Charles, but forms a solid tandem with Ware, which would make his fantasy value tough to deduce should Charles go down again.
Spencer Ware – Ware was cut following preseason, but was promoted in October and was active for the final 11 games of the season (though he didn’t play with a rib injury in Week Fifteen). Ware transitioned well from fullback to tailback, and posted 72/403/6 rushing and 6/5/0 receiving on 6 targets. In the nine games in which he actually touched the ball, he averaged 9.2 FPG. Ware played above 30% of the snaps in four games (Weeks Eleven through Thirteen, Week Seventeen), he averaged 16.9 FPG. Unfortunately, Ware’s big game came in Week Eleven, a game in which Charcandrick West got injured, so no one was on Ware for fantasy. Nonetheless, Ware posted 10 red-zone rushes, including 6 goal-line rushes, over the final seven games of the season. He also ran better than West in the Chiefs’ wild-card win over the Texans, before suffering an ankle injury that ended his season. Ware’s under contract for next year, and should have a role as a FB/RB tweener, but he’s unlikely to have any independent fantasy value unless Jamaal Charles goes down.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Will Charles be healthy in 2016, and where will he be drafted? Will West, Ware, and Knile Davis be used as part of a rotation behind him?
Jeremy Maclin – Maclin had a bit of an underrated season and flew under the radar in his first season in Kansas City. He played a pivotal role in quite a few fantasy championships, finishing the year as the #8 WR in Weeks 12-17 with 39/476/6 receiving for 20.7 FPG. Maclin also may have killed couple fantasy teams with a shaky stretch from Weeks 6-11, missing a game with a concussion in that time and posting just 12/129/1 for 7.7 FPG (70th). He finished the year with 87/1088/8 receiving on 122 targets (71.3% catch rate, 12.5 YPC) for 16.3 FPG (19th) in 15 games. He played on 88.2% of the snaps this year and averaged 2.01 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). He finished with 10+ FP in 11 games and had 25+ four times. The Chiefs have been starved for a #1 WR recently and Maclin certainly fit the bill, improving the entire WR corps. He lifted up the entire offense with his speed, route running and overall production, and it was no coincidence that Alex Smith threw a better deep ball than we’ve even seen. At least in his first season, Maclin proved to be well worth the $55-million contract he received in free agency, and he should be a solid WR2 again in 2016.
Chris Conley – Conley felt like a bit of reach and an odd match for the Chiefs when they selected him in the 3rd round last year, and he certainly didn’t disprove that feeling in his first season. He has all the physical tools to go along with his long frame (6’3”, 205 pounds), but he’s incredibly raw and was nothing more than a vertical threat with a QB, Alex Smith, who rarely throws it deep. Conley finished with 17/199/1 receiving on 31 targets (54.8% catch rate, 11.7 YPC) for 2.7 FPG in 16 games. He played 36.8% of the snaps this year and averaged just 1.38 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). The Chiefs still desperately need some help behind Jeremy Maclin at WR, and Conley is going to get his chances to become the #2 WR this off-season. Still, he’ll be a late-round flyer in deep leagues next summer unless he gets some rave reviews in off-season workouts.
Albert Wilson – The Chiefs have a major hole at their #2 WR spot behind Jeremy Maclin, with the diminutive Wilson (5’9”, 200 pounds) serving as their top option. He got off to an incredibly slow start because of a nagging shoulder and it eventually forced him to miss two games, as he had just 3/25 receiving through Week Five. From Week Six on, he averaged 2.9 catches and 38.7 yards per game, so he at least was involved in the offense at the end of the year. Wilson finished the year with 35/451/2 receiving on 53 targets (66% catch rate, 12.9 YPC) for 6.8 FPG in 14 games. Wilson played on 75.3% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.79 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). Wilson is better suited to be a #3/4 WR and to play out of the slot because of his size, but at least he’ll only be 24 next season and has improved in his first two seasons.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Can Maclin once again settle in as a solid WR2? Will Conley and/or Wilson step up and adequately fill the #2 WR role or will it be gaping hole in this passing game again?
Travis Kelce – Kelce got some big news this off-season…landing his own reality dating show on E! called Catching Kelce. We kid, that’s not the big news, as he actually signed a five-year, $46 million extension at the end of January. The deal makes him the second-highest paid TD in football behind only Jimmy Graham. Kelce posted career-best number in 2015, but they were shockingly similar to his 2014 numbers (5 more catches, 13 more yards, and same TDs), and he actually fell a little short of fantasy expectations with 5th-round ADP. He finished with 72/875/5 receiving on 103 targets (69.9% catch rate, 12.2 YPC) for 11.8 FPG (9th) in 16 games. Kelce’s now played all 32 games since a knee injury knocked out his entire rookie season. He played on 92.1% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.84 FP per target (league average was 1.65 FP/target for TEs). Kelce has been called a mini Rob Gronkowski because of his size (6’5”, 260 pounds) and his athleticism, but HC Andy Reid and QB Alex Smith have yet to fully use him quite enough in his first two seasons. Kelce finished with fewer than 10 FP eight times and in his other eight games he hit 13+ FP. He’s capable of taking over a game if he’s involved in the offense, but they don’t always generate enough targets for him from week to week. As his new contract indicates, the Chiefs clearly see him as a huge part of this offense going forward, so hopefully they start using him like the high-end TE1 that he’s capable of being.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Will Smith and Reid ever fully utilize the athletic Kelce to his potential?
Key Free Agents
FS Eric Berry, CB Sean Smith, OLB Tamba Hali, ILB Derrick Johnson, LG Jeff Allen, RB Charcandrick West (ERFA), QB Chase Daniel, DE Mike DeVito, SS Tyvon Branch, FS Husain Abdullah, LT Donald Stephenson, NT Jaye Howard, WR Jason Avant, CB Jamell Fleming, CB Marcus Cooper, OLB Frank Zombo.
Oakland Raiders (7-9; 3rd in AFC West)
Derek Carr – The Raiders actually have a ton of hope entering the off-season for the first time in years, and much of that optimism starts at quarterback. It also doesn’t hurt that Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree transformed a terrible WR corps into a formidable group in just one off-season. With the upgraded talent around him, Carr showed vast improvement from Year 1 to Year 2, with his efficiency numbers up across the board. He finished the year completing 350/573 passes for 3987 yards, 32 TDs, and 13 INTs and adding 33/138/0 rushing for 21.3 FPG (20th). Carr averaged 7.0 YPA and .60 FP per target (league average was .54 FP/attempt for QBs). He finished with six 100-yard games and 11 multiple-TD games, but he did have seven games when he failed to reach 20+ FP. Three of those performances came from Week Fourteen on, as he slumped a bit in December and threw some bad INTs. It didn’t help that Cooper wasn’t the same playing through a foot injury, and Carr still led the Raiders to comeback wins against Broncos and Chargers despite his sloppy play. The Raider pass blocking went from solid to bad by the end of the year, and that will be the top area to upgrade on offense along with some help at RB next to Latavius Murray. Still, Cooper and his fellow top pick TE Clive Walford should be better in their second seasons, and the Raiders locked up Crabtree to a four-year deal, so things are only looking up for this Raider passing game heading into 2016. Carr, who will turn 25 in March, is well liked and viewed as a hard worker already in his career, so this offense is going follow his lead in the years to come. It won’t be surprising if Carr is a sexy sleeper pick – and for good reasons – in the middle rounds next summer.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Can Carr make the jump to a consistent low-end QB1 next season in an improving offense?
Latavius Murray – In a normal year, Murray’s season wouldn’t stand out at all. The fact that he was consistent and productive was enough to separate him in 2015, however. Playing in 16 games for the Raiders, Murray posted 267/1066/6 rushing (4.0 YPC) with 41/232/0 receiving on 53 targets (77.4%, 5.7 YPR). With 12.9 FPG, he averaged 18th among all RBs. However, because we had the fewest 1000-yard rushers in the NFL since 1991 (only seven), Murray’s season stands out a little bit more because he was consistently available. Murray carried at least 11 times and touched the ball at least 13 times in every single game. He played 64.4% of Oakland’s offensive snaps overall, topping 70% in six different games. Murray also touched the ball on 45% of his snaps, 5th among RBs with 250 or more touches (granted, there were only 10 such RBs). The problem? He was just boring. Though he was consistently involved in the offense, Murray didn’t have a single top-12 RB performance between doing it in Weeks Three and Thirteen. Murray then had another top-12 performance in Week Sixteen (a good time for it), but in general, he was more a reliable RB2/3 than anything else. In fact, he topped 10 FP in just two of his final seven games, despite being by far the Raiders’ lead back over that span. In all, Murray had two 100-yard rushing performances, and one more game in which he topped 100 yards from scrimmage. In all, Murray was completely fine. He’s exciting to watch in the open field, but too often gets bottled up at the line of scrimmage. The Raiders would ideally like to have someone rotate in with him to provide more (that was supposed to be Roy Helu), but Murray did plenty enough to stick around in the NFL. Just don’t expect a whole lot more than this for fantasy.
Roy Helu – Yeesh. Helu signed a two-year deal in the off-season with Oakland, presumably to be the club’s third-down back, rotating with Latavius Murray. Well, Helu appeared in only nine games, played just 92 snaps, and posted 17/39 rushing and 9/75/1 receiving. He had a hamstring injury in training camp, but for most of the season was just a healthy scratch. Helu got paid basically $2 million for 26 touches, so we would not expect to see him back next year in Oakland.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Will Murray be the Raiders’ lead back again, or will Oakland look to add someone? Will Helu be cut?
Amari Cooper – Cooper had extremely high expectations as a polished product with the #4 overall draft status, and we’d have to say he met those expectations. He became the first Raider WR to reach 1000 yards since Randy Moss did it in 2005 and, with the help of Michael Crabtree, they transformed a terrible WR corps into a formidable group in just one off-season. Cooper could’ve had a much better season but a foot injury really slowed him down the stretch, and it didn’t help that Derek Carr’s play also dipped at the end of the year. Cooper had a catchless game and two 2-catch games in his final four games, and GM Reggie McKenzie said after the season that the team considered shutting him. Cooper still finished with 72/1070/6 receiving on 127 targets (56.7% catch rate, 14.9 YPC) for 13.4 FPG (28th) in 16 games. He played on 85.3% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.69 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). Cooper came into the league with a reputation for being a steady target out of Alabama, but his production this season was a bit erratic, with five games with 20+ FP and seven games with fewer than 10 FP. We expect Cooper to be much more reliable in his second season, and he got a successful season under his belt despite fading down the stretch. This Raider passing game is trending upward with Carr in charge, and Cooper will be a sexy pick to make the jump to elite status next summer.
Michael Crabtree – Crabtree signed a one-year, prove-it deal with the Raiders last off-season, and the move turned out great for both sides. Crabtree got what he wanted: a four-year, $35 million extension during the season. And the Raiders got what they wanted: a #2 WR to play with their franchise QB Derek Carr and franchise WR Amari Cooper. Cooper and Crabtree transformed a terrible WR corps into a formidable group in just one off-season. Crabtree finished with 85/922/9 receiving on 146 targets (58.6% catch rate, 10.8 YPC) for 14.5 FPG (26th) in 16 games. He played on 76.7% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.58 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). His production did tail off some of in the second half of the year but that coincided with a dip in Carr’s play. All three of Crabtree’s 100-yard games came in his first eight games and he averaged just 11.9 FPG from Week Ten on. Still, he showed that he’s a rock-solid WR3, and he’s finally in a perfect spot as a high-end #2 WR. Crabtree really only thrived as the guy in San Fran during the 2012 season, and he seems much better suited to be in an offense with a strong #1 WR – much like Eric Decker. Carr looks to be only getting better after two seasons, so Crabtree may have an even higher ceiling than what he showed in 2015.
Seth Roberts – Roberts was on our radar early after he caught the eye of our film guy Greg Cosell in the preseason because of his combination of size (6’2”, 196 pounds) and speed. Roberts was a small-school product out of West Alabama and buried on depth chart to start training camp, but it didn’t take him long for him to emerge as the #3 WR ahead of Andre Holmes and Rod Streater. He finished with 32/480/5 receiving on 53 targets (60.4% catch rate, 15.0 YPC) for 6.9 FPG in 16 games. Roberts played on 53.5% of the snaps this year and averaged 2.08 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). Roberts took advantage of his opportunity in training camp and definitely flashed at times in his first season. Now, his next goal is to become a consistent piece in this passing game, as his production was quite sporadic with Derek Carr. Still, there’s enough here to be excited about his potential going forward in what should be an improving passing game.
Andre Holmes – Holmes saw his playing time dwindle in 2015 after a mini-breakout season in 2014, which wasn’t surprising with the addition of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. What was a surprise was that he also fell behind rookie Seth Roberts, as Holmes was the #4 WR in this offense. Holmes finished with just 14/201/4 receiving on 32 targets (43.8% catch rate, 14.4 YPC) for 3.6 FPG in 16 games, failing to register a catch in eight games. Holmes played on 33.8% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.87 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). He should have some interested teams because of his speed and length (6’4”, 210 pounds), and he’s still has some potential despite the fact that he’ll 28 years in June.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Can Cooper threaten WR1 status in his second season? Does Crabtree have a higher ceiling than he showed in 2015 if Carr continues to improve? Can Roberts develop into yet another dangerous weapon for Carr? Will Holmes look for a bigger role in a new location?
Clive Walford – Walford’s career got off to a slow start, like we’ve seen with many rookie TEs in recent years, but he one of the few first-year TEs to make some regular contributions in 2015. The Raiders used a 3rd-round pick on Walford and used him mostly as a situational player, essentially rotating snaps with Mychal Rivera and Lee Smith. However, Walford’s role increased as the year went along, seeing at least 4+ targets in each of his final five games. Walford finished the year with 28/329/3 receiving on 49 targets (57.1% catch rate, 11.8 YPC) for 4.9 FPG in 16 games. He played on 41.5% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.61 FP per target (league average was 1.65 FP/target for TEs). Walford should take over the majority of the snaps at TE in his second season, and he could be an intriguing late-round pick in fantasy drafts next summer because he has the potential develop into their #3 receiver with regular playing time.
Mychal Rivera – Rivera’s days as a fantasy relevant TE were numbered once the Raiders took Walford in the 3rd round last spring. Rivera fought for playing time in a three-man rotation with Walford and Lee Smith, playing on 37.9% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.43 FP per target (league average was 1.65 FP/target for TEs). Rivera finished with 32/280/1 receiving on 46 targets (69.6% catch rate, 8.8 YPC) for 4.1 FPG in 16 games. Walford’s role is expected to grow in his second season, so it’s fair to wonder if Rivera will reach 30+ catches for a fourth season to start his career.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Can Walford make the second-year jump to fantasy relevancy that we’ve seen from other TEs? Will Rivera stay involved in the offense with Walford’s role likely to grow?
Key Free Agents
WR Andre Holmes, WR Rod Streater, WR Seth Roberts (ERFA), LT Donald Penn, DE Justin Tuck, OLB Aldon Smith, QB Matt McGloin (RFA), OL J’Marcus Webb, RT Matt McCants (RFA), OL Khalif Barnes, S Larry Asante (RFA), P Marquette King, CB Neiko Thorpe, WR Jeremy Ross.
San Diego Chargers (4-12; 4th in AFC West)
Philip Rivers – It might be hard to believe, but Rivers arguably had one of his better years, even with everything crumbling around him because of injuries and the Chargers struggling to a 4-12 record. Rivers lost his best receiver Keenan Allen just eight games into the season and still led the AFC in passing yards. The Chargers pass-play percentage (64.3) was way up this year because of their overall struggles and the fact that they were playing from behind so much. He had the most dropbacks since Matthew Stafford in 2012, and he led the league in passes (662) and completions (438). According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, Rivers averaged a quick 2.33 seconds from snap to pass because of his terrible O-line and a lack of a vertical passing game. He finished the year completing 438/662 passes for 4793, 29 TDs, and 13 INTs for 22.4 FPG (12th). Rivers averaged 7.2 YPA and .54 FP per attempt (league average was .54 FP/attempt for QBs). Nothing went right for Rivers this season between their O-line struggles, Allen’s injury, and Antonio Gates’s suspension. We can’t imagine it getting any worse in 2016, and Rivers will once again be back in the low-end QB1 conversation next summer.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Can the Chargers actually give Rivers some help with a running game and a decent O-line? Will Inman take over Floyd’s spot on the outside?
Danny Woodhead – It was a weird year for Woodhead, but a good one. Playing in 51% of the Chargers’ offensive snaps, and in all 16 games after breaking his leg and ankle in 2013, he posted 97/335/3 rushing (3.5 YPC) and 81/756/6 receiving on 107 targets (75.7%, 9.3 YPR). He averaged 15.3 FPG to rank him 10th among all RBs. He led all RBs in catches, receiving yards, and receiving TDs, and hauled in at least 5 receptions in nine different games. Woodhead had four games of 20 or more FP, though he posted under 10 FP five times. He had five games of 100 or more yards from scrimmage, and led the Charger backfield in snaps in 14 of 16 games. At 1.37 FP/touch, Woodhead was second to only Theo Riddick (1.47) among RBs with 100 or more touches, and was #1 among RBs with 150 or more touches. However, there was a six-game stretch from Weeks Eight through Fourteen in which Woodhead had four games of under 10 FP. There seemed to be a long stretch during which the Chargers would keep forcing the ball to Melvin Gordon, despite every suggestion it wouldn’t work. Whatever the case with Gordon, Woodhead is simply too good and too reliable to not use. Woodhead was the Chargers’ primary red-zone back, with 20 runs inside the 20, and 17 targets in the same range (the latter led all RBs). Woodhead’s back in 2016, and though he’s now 31, there’s nothing in his play (or Gordon’s) that suggests he shouldn’t be in a similar role.
Melvin Gordon – Gordon had a really, really tough rookie season. Playing in 14 games before knee surgery ended his campaign (he dealt with ankle problems too), Gordon posted just 184/641/0 rushing (3.5 YPC) and 33/192/0 receiving on 37 targets (89.2%, 5.8 YPR). He averaged 8.3 FPG, to rank 56th among all RBs. Gordon became the first running back drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft to play in 10 games as a rookie and not score a TD since Tommy Vardell in 1992. At 0.54 FP/touch, Gordon was the second-worst in the entire NFL among RBs with 200 or more touches (Alfred Morris – 0.46). That didn’t stop the Chargers from trying to get him going incessantly, though. Gordon played 38.7% of the Chargers’ offensive snaps when active, and touched the ball on 55% of those snaps, a ridiculously high number. Still, despite 12 games with 11 or more carries, Gordon never topped 88 rushing yards, never had 100 or more yards from scrimmage, and averaged under 3.0 YPC in five different games. What’s more, Gordon fumbled six times, second-most among RBs, and found himself on the bench because of it on multiple occasions. Gordon struggled to find lanes behind one of the NFL’s worst (and most banged up) offensive lines, and though he had six runs of 20 or more yards, he never popped one of the home runs we got used to seeing from him at Wisconsin. We thought Gordon’s style may struggle to translate to the NFL, but it was much worse than we imagined. A better line should help matters, but Gordon’s tendency to slow his feet at the point of attack just will not work at this level of football. He has a lot to work on.
Branden Oliver – Oliver played only 90 snaps in eight games before turf toe ended his year, but at times he actually looked more impressive than Melvin Gordon. Oliver posted 31/108/0 rushing (3.5 YPC) and 13/112/0 receiving on 15 targets (86.7%, 8.6 YPR). Oliver had back-to-back games of 10 or more FP in Weeks Six and Seven (outsnapping Gordon in each week), before getting hurt in Week Eight. Oliver should be healthy for spring, and should be back as part of an RB rotation next season.
Donald Brown – Brown played in 10 games this year, posting 59/229/1 rushing (3.9 YPC) and 8/88/0 receiving on 13 targets. He was a healthy scratch for the early part of the year, and was actually released in early October to clear a roster spot, before getting signed back two days later. Brown then became an important part of the backfield over the final three games, with Melvin Gordon nursing a knee injury. In fact, in Week Fifteen, Brown ran for 90 yards, two yards higher than Gordon’s season-high of 88. Though he did some positive things late in the season, Brown is almost certain to be released, given how much money he’s owed (almost $4 million) and the fact that he’s going into his age 29 season.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Can Gordon make any progress towards being useful for fantasy? Will Woodhead once again be an excellent value for PPR leagues? Will Brown be cut?
Keenan Allen – Allen was having a season for the record books before lacerating his kidney eight games into the season against the Ravens. Allen actually had the most catches (62) in NFL history through seven games. He was on pace for 134 catches and 1450 yards, and his injury was a killer for an offense without a running game, as Philip Rivers was basically using short passes to Allen to move the chains. According to Michael Gehlken of The San Diego Union-Tribune, the Chargers had the #1 offense (423.3 yards per game) with Allen and the #24 offense without him (320.4). He finished the year with 67/725/4 receiving on 89 targets (75.3% catch rate, 10.8 YPC) for 20.4 FPG in eight games. Allen played on 90.1% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.84 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). He had an absolute dud in Week Two against the Bengals (2/16) but he topped 11+ FP in every other games, including three games with 29+ FP in which he combined for 41 of his catches. Allen is expected to be ready for a full off-season program, and he’ll be just 24 years old in April. There’s a chance he goes under the radar a bit next summer because of his early end to the 2015 season, but he has the potential to be a low-end WR1.
Stevie Johnson – Johnson’s refined route running looked like a great fit for Philip Rivers and this offense, and he scored TDs in his first two games to feed into that excitement. However, hamstring and groin injuries limited his availability for much of the year. He played in just 10 games this year with his groin injury eventually cutting his season short after Week Thirteen. He finished the year with 45/497/3 receiving on 65 targets (69.2% catch rate, 11.0 FPG) for 11.3 FPG in 10 games. Johnson played on 83.7% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.73 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). He did start to show some of his promise during a stretch when he was healthy in Weeks 9-12 – when Keenan Allen was also out of the lineup – posting 21/214/1 for 16.1 FPG. Johnson certainly has the chance to bounce back next season with another year in the offense, and it won’t hurt that Malcom Floyd will be gone. Still, Johnson has missed 13 games the last three season, so it’s fair to wonder if he can stay healthy for a full 16-game season.
Dontrelle Inman – Inman took on a bigger role after Keenan Allen’s season-ending injury in Week Eight, but he put up sporadic production even with his increased role. He never became a consistent fantasy option from Week Nine on, posting 26/344/2 receiving for 10.3 FPG (51st) in seven games. Inman finished the year with 35/486/3 receiving on 61 targets (57.4% catch rate, 13.9 YPC) for 7.3 FPG in 14 games. He played on 67.3% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.67 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). He missed the season opener after suffering a concussion late in training camp and he missed another game in Week Fourteen because of a neck injury. Inman will be back as an exclusive-rights free agent, and he’ll have a chance to battle for more playing time on the outside with Malcom Floyd retiring, but he hasn’t earned the right to be handed the job.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Will Allen be peppered with targets again if this O-line and running game improve? Can Johnson stay on the field and be a good fit with Rivers in this offense? Will Inman take over Floyd’s spot on the outside?
Antonio Gates – Gates’ 2015 season started in less than ideal fashion with a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. He also missed a fifth game to a knee injury, which nagged him for much of the year and hurt his production. Still, he remained a threat and should have at least one more year left – he is a free agent – and he could possibly go retire in 2016 if this is the Chargers’ final season in San Diego. Gates finished the year with 56/630/5 receiving on 84 targets (66.7% catch rate, 11.3 YPC) for 13.5 FPG (7th) in 11 games. He finished with 10+ FP eight times despite scoring TDs in just three games. He played on 61.7% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.77 FP per target (league average was 1.65 FP/target for TEs). The Chargers have a brutal dilemma at TE this off-season with both Gates and Ladarius Green hitting free agency. It’s no secret that the Chargers want Gates back and all indications are he has no plans on retiring. But Gates’ return could hurt their chances of retaining Green if he his top priority is to be a starter in the league. Gates certainly isn’t moving very well and he’ll turn 36 years old in June, but he has a knack for getting open still and Philip Rivers will continue to feed him until Gates can’t move any longer.
Ladarius Green – Green could go down as one of the more intriguing skill position free agents this off-season. He never quite lived up to his billing playing behind Antonio Gates, but some team will likely roll the dice with the 26-year-old TE to see if they can get the most out of him. Of course, the Chargers could also look to keep him around with Gates nearing the end of his career. Green got a big opportunity to start the year with Gates suspended the first four games, and he did well with 14/174/2 in the three games he appeared in. He missed a game in Week Three because of a concussion, and he suffered another concussion in the preseason. He also dealt with a nagging ankle injury for much of the year, which finally landed him on the IR before Week Seventeen and require surgery. He finished the year with 37/429/4 receiving on 63 targets (58.7% catch rate, 11.6 YPC) for 8.0 FPG in 13 games. Green played on 69.5% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.65 FP per target (league average was 1.65 FP/target for TEs). Green is a rare talent but it hasn’t always come out during his time in San Diego but maybe he just needs more playing time. The Chargers have a brutal dilemma at TE this off-season with both Gates and Green hitting free agency. It’s no secret that the Chargers want Gates back and all indications are he has no plans on retiring. But Gates’ return could hurt their chances of retaining Green if he his top priority is to be a starter in the league. We’re guessing that Green will be drafted like a TE1 if he lands in a decent offense where he’ll start.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Who will be back at TE for the Chargers? Does Gates have one more good year left in the tank? Will Green leave via free agency and finally break out away from Gates’ shadow?
Key Free Agents
TE Antonio Gates, TE Ladarius Green, FS Eric Weddle, RT Joe Barksdale, OG Johnnie Troutman, QB Kellen Clemens, DE Kendall Reyes, SS Jahleel Addae (RFA), WR Dontrelle Inman (ERFA), DT Ricardo Mathews, TE John Phillips, FB David Johnson, CB Patrick Robinson.
Source: Fantasy Guru
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