The NFL’s regular season doesn’t start for another five months, but when it comes to the fantasy marketplace, it’s been open for business for over two weeks. In fact, stage one of the off-season – free agency – is all but wrapped up, with just a few key figures still waiting to secure their 2016 homes.
Free agency has been pretty kind to us in the fantasy football world, since we’ve seen more situations get cleared up than get cloudier, and we’ve seen the circumstances for many key players improve based on the moves their teams have made. We’ll have a much better handle on player values and expectations after the draft, but there’s been plenty of values shifting based on what’s gone down since the league year opened earlier this month.
The goal of this article is to get you completely caught up on any and all offensive moves of consequence and the fantasy ramifications thereof, and I hope you find I’ve delivered comprehensively.
Tom Brady (QB, NE) – The Patriots have had a very “Patriot” off-season, as their transactions have been more under-the-radar type moves than they are splash moves. But their moves could be incredibly impactful, particularly for their most important player, Brady. The Pats clearly have designs to be more diverse and multiple, and why wouldn’t they be with the cerebral Brady at the helm? In Martellus Bennett, they now have a #2 TE who can line up anywhere and do everything well, including block. Teamed with Rob Gronkowski, Bennett will greatly help Brady and the Pats dictate matchups. And the same can be said for the unheralded Chris Hogan, who can also line up anywhere, including the slot (he ran about 50% of his routes from there in 2015), and he’s had recent success sneaking past the defense on the outside for some big plays. He’s not a burner, but Hogan can run pretty well for his size (size is also a positive trait he brings to the offense). Even if they let Danny Amendola and his $6.8 million salary cap hit in 2016 go, the Pats look more diverse and multiple than they’ve been since 2012 with Aaron Hernandez, and Brady’s OL should be in much better shape than it was in 2015 – especially if they can get solid play out of 2013 draft bust Jonathan Cooper – when it was one of the worst in the league. The Pats have also added a quality veteran in Nate Washington, who can still play/run, and an intriguing puzzle piece in athletic TE Clay Harbor. Those two are back-of-the-roster types, but the prospect of defending Brady and the Patriots with Gronk, Bennett, Hogan, Julian Edelman, and Dion Lewis on the field is a scary proposition for their 2016 opponents, and it leads me to believe that Brady has more upside on paper than he did in 2015, when he led the NFL with 36 TD passes.
Matt Ryan (QB, Atl) – There are varying opinions about his new wideout Mohamed Sanu, who’s had problems with drops the last two years (led NFL in drops in 2014) and who can struggle against man coverage at times, likely due to his athletic limitations. I have more on Sanu below, but the bottom line for Ryan is that he’s an upgrade over Leonard Hankerson, who quickly emerged as the #2 WR here over veteran Roddy White last year. I view Sanu and second-year man Justin Hardy as being an upgrade over Roddy/Hankerson, especially since the team paid big money to sign Sanu, as opposed to how OC Kyle Shanahan inherited Roddy. The Falcons have also done a very good job rebuilding their OL, and if former Brown C Alex Mack can return to form, they should have a dominant run-blocker to plug in a big hole the Falcons line had inside. Ryan’s still a less-than-inspiring fantasy option these days, and they still need a young TE to get in the mix (we’re still waiting), but his OL and receiving corps did improve in free agency, which is a solid start to 2016 for him.
Joe Flacco (QB, Bal) – I listed Flacco as a buy-low keeper leading up to free agency, but that was more about his existing weaponry and his suppressed value coming off an ACL injury (his recovery is going very well). Just a few weeks later, his value is already rising due to the additions of veterans Ben Watson and Mike Wallace. Flacco’s OL did lose a dominant run-blocking G in Kelechi Osemele, but Watson and Wallace are nice bridge players until second-year guys Breshad Perriman and Maxx Williams are ready to seriously contribute, which could still be in 2016. Watson is 35 and Wallace was a non-factor in 2015, but these are two nice 2016 additions to this TE-friendly offense that can seriously challenge defenses on vertical routes with the strong-armed Flacco being one of the best deep throwers in the league. Assuming Steve Smith returns somewhere close to form (no guarantee at his age coming off an Achilles), Flacco’s supporting cast is pretty loaded, with Kamar Aiken a very handy player and also in the mix, giving him a legit chance to log his best fantasy season to date in his second year in Marc Trestman’s pass-heavy offense.
Marcus Mariota (QB, Ten) – The addition of Rishard Matthews isn’t earth-shattering, but his 43/662/4 in just 10 games last season would have led all Titans wide, so Mariota’s receiving corps got better. Matthews had some interest from the Patriots, likely because he has good size and inside/outside versatility and he’s a savvy move-the-sticks player who can be a QB’s best friend (he was a savior of sorts for Ryan Tannehill last year) while lining up anywhere on the field. He gives them some versatility, but he’ll likely focus on playing the Z receiver spot, giving Mariota a legitimate receiving foursome in Matthews, Delanie Walker, Kendall Wright, and Dorial Green-Beckham. Moreover, the addition of DeMarco Murray gives the Titans a strong foundation back, which is critical for a young QB and in Mike Mularkey’s power running offense. Murray is also a huge upgrade in the passing game at the RB position for the Titans. Tennessee’s OL was a major disappointment last year (most sacks given up, one of the worst running games in the league), but they’ve upgraded at C with free agent Ben Jones (Hou), and their depth inside improves with previous starter Brian Schwenke back healthy. With the first pick of the draft, they now have an opportunity to acquire quite possibly the best LT prospect to enter the league in a decade in Laremy Tunsil. If he’s the pick, then former first-round pick Taylor Lewan can slide to the right side, so the Titan OL could quickly be a big strength. It’s all looking good on paper for Mariota in Year Two.
Mark Sanchez (QB, Den) – This entry could be meaningless in a couple of months, but the fact is Sanchez’s 2016 value was greatly aided by his move to Denver, which, as of his signing, had only 2015 7th-round pick Trevor Siemian at QB on the roster. Sanchez at this point is what he is, a guy who can make some plays but who’ll usually start making terrible decisions at awful times if too much is on his plate. That said, he had his most success from 2009-2012 with the Jets, while in the game-manager role with a team that emphasized the running game on offense and had a great defense. Even HC Gary Kubiak thinks Sanchez could flourish in Denver’s system, and he’s encouraged by the 60 starts he’s made in the league and how he’s “got some background” in what they do on offense. We do still doubt John Elway wants Sanchez starting most of the Broncos’ games in 2016, but if he is, Sanchez has at least “won” with a similarly built team. With Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders there, along with a strong running game, Sanchez could have some streaming value if he’s the guy. He’s an upgrade, for sure, but that could be temporary, so he’s also a “wait-and-see” guy.
Lamar Miller (RB, Hou) – One of the biggest positives about his move to Houston was the fact that he reportedly opted to sign with the Texans, despite getting offered more money by one or more other teams. That’s worth noting for anyone, but especially Miller, who averaged 0.97 FP/touch, tying him with DeAngelo Williams for #1 among RBs with 200 or more touches. He also averaged 0.37 FP/snap, well above the league average of 0.29 for RBs. The Texans know all too well what this complete back can do, since he put up 236 yards and 2 TDs on 17 touches against them in 2015. Miller is a complete back, but he does need to be in the right system, since he’s a little stiff in the hips, and he’s in the zone scheme he needs to be in with the Texans. The Texan OL was middle of the pack last year, and though they did lose two starters inside in C Ben Jones and G Brandon Brooks, they added FA G Jeff Allen, which should help offset the loss of Brooks. Miller’s a great fit for this revamped offense led now by Brock Osweiler, and it’s clear that Miller’s touches are on the rise as the bell-cow back for the Texans, who’ll look to take full advantage of his versatility and speed/big play ability.
C.J. Anderson (RB, Den) – The Broncos have reshuffled their OL this off-season and will roll with two new starters at tackle in Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson, a pair of solid veterans. We’ll see what happens with Ryan Clady, but Denver should be much better at tackle, which was arguably the biggest problem area for this underwhelming OL in 2015. I was a little surprised Denver matched Miami’s large RFA offer to Anderson, but it’s solid news for Anderson’s value, since he’s poised to carry the load in Gary Kubiak’s proven rushing attack. Anderson failed to truly deliver on his top-25 ADP last year, but it was clear by the end of the year that he the most important part of their offense. 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%. Anderson had injury issues prior to the Broncos’ Week Seven bye, but 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. In all, Anderson was more useful than Hillman in pretty much every measurable area down the stretch and in the playoffs, but it wasn’t as noticeable because he played fewer snaps than Hillman in seven of his final nine games of the regular season. I’d expect the Broncos to be a run-heavy offensive team in 2016, no matter the QB, and Anderson to be the lead back with Hillman still a free agent. A balanced back with a three-down skillset, Anderson could have some post-disappointment fantasy value in 2016, much like a Doug Martin type did in 2015. Pending the draft, Hillman’s status, and the QB situation, Anderson could find himself within our top-12 at the position, and he’s almost certainly going to be ranked within our top-25 overall.
Matt Jones (RB, Was) – It’s early in the off-season, but I’d venture to guess the hype on Jones would be a lot greater right now had he actually, you know, been good last year. Front and center were the ball-security issues (5 fumbles), but he also had a tough time staying healthy, and his numbers were mediocre. He did average a whopping 16 yards a catch, but that number was inflated due to a handful of big plays (only 19 catches on the season). Otherwise, Jones averaged only 3.4 YPC n the ground. He was also just barely over the league average in points-per-snap (.36, league avg was .35) and he was below the league average in points-per-touch (.75, league avg was .84). But Jones did flash some great potential as a runner and receiver, and HC Jay Gruden has been pretty clear this off-season that their intentions for Jones were/are for him to be their primary back. With Alfred Morris gone and the Redskins unlikely to invest an earlier pick on a back (though we’ll see about that), that plan is still in place. So Jones is trending upward, but he’ll have to improve his technique holding the ball and further develop his craft overall (he can improve his pad level on runs, for example). If he does, he’ll be an incredibly appealing fantasy pick. The Redskin offense has been transitioning the last two season to power running, with solid results and personnel, including 2015 #1 pick Brandon Scherff and stud Trent Williams. This should be a top-10 offensive line in 2016, and they are otherwise loaded with talent at the skill positions, so Jones’ upside as a volume runner and active receiver is quite tantalizing.
Alfred Morris (RB, Dal) – Morris’ production and YPC averages have declined after three years running, but he’s been a Cowboy killer in the past (4.7 YPC and 7 TDs in eight career games against them), and that fact likely helped his chances of signing with the Cowboys. Morris was 14th in the NFL with 202 carries, but his horrendous 0.46 FP/touch average last year was by far the lowest number among RBs with 100 or more touches. Morris scored only 1 TD last year, but he’s at least been good in short yardage, scoring 18 TDs on 39 runs from inside the 5 in his career. The real killer for Morris, of course, has been his lack of receiving work (only 11.75 catches per season in his career), which has made him a PPR liability. Morris doesn’t have a flashy skill set, but he’s powerful with quick feet and he gets to the perimeter effectively. A decisive one-cut inside runner with patience and vision, he should play a two-down role effectively in Dallas, where the inside/outside zone plays are their bread and butter, especially outside zone/stretch plays. Morris is an upgrade in arguably the best location possible as of his signing, but the more versatile Darren McFadden is coming off a strong season and still considered the “starter,” and receiving specialist Lance Dunbar re-signed this off-season, so Morris has company in the backfield (we also can’t rule out a RB in the draft). Assuming things stay the same in this backfield, he should settle into an active role with 13-15 carries a week, giving the durable Morris solid potential behind this excellent OL. If his ADP is in the 80-100 range, he’ll be a nice RB3/4 to grab for depth and upside should McFadden have any injury problems. But if the “Dallas OL” factor drives his ADP into the 50-60 range, there’s still plenty of downside for Morris at that price, as he will remain a TD-dependent fantasy asset, even if his YPC and efficiency rise.
DeAndre Hopkins (WR, Hou) – Hopkins last year was the first receiver in NFL history to record 100-yard games with four different QBs, so it’s promising for him how the Texans have plausibly solved their QB problem with a long-term solution in Brock Osweiler. The Texans also addressed a big hole at RB with the signing of Lamar Miller, so Hopkins should be in a good position to at least duplicate his outstanding 2016 production. It’s entirely possible that we still haven’t seen the best Hopkins has to offer, since he’s played with some bad QBs the last two years. No one’s getting started on Osweiler’s Hall of Fame bust just yet, but there are no limitations to his passing, thanks to his strong arm. Hopkins will have to quickly gain chemistry with Osweiler, but he now has a chance to steadily grow with a very capable QB who won’t be in-and-out of the lineup, so the best may be yet to come.
A.J. Green (WR, Cin) – Green’s fallen off a bit the last two years from his mega-productive 2012-2013 seasons, in part due to injury (to both Green and QB Andy Dalton) but also due in 2015 to the emergence of TE Tyler Eifert, who this past season was a major weapon on the field along with wideouts Marvin Jones and Mohamad Sanu. Eifert remains, but his presence is much less of a concern for Green because Jones and Sanu are gone. Green in 2015 averaged a stellar 2.15 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs), and if we give him his average number of targets in 2012-2013 (168.5), that would give him 362 fantasy points, which would have been third in the league last year behind only Antonio Brown and Julio Jones. And keep in mind his starting QB missed four games (including the 5-attempt game in which he was injured). The Bengals did sign veteran Brandon LaFell, who’s a good fit here, but still doesn’t totally offset the absence of Jones and Sanu (especially given LaFell’s poor 2015 campaign). The loss of OC Hue Jackson isn’t a big concern for the Bengals, who do a great job promoting from within on their coaching staff. New OC Ken Zampese has been with the organization for 13 years, and he won’t change the system for Green and his solid QB Dalton. Green’s not as exciting of a fantasy pick as some of his contemporaries these days, but he’s a “safe” pick at the very end of the first round, and fantasy owners might even get some value for Green in the 2nd round in 2016.
DeVante Parker (WR, Mia) – Parker’s tricky because, on one hand, I’m worried about overrating him, since his tape dating back to college has been inconsistent. On the other hand, I’m concerned about underrating a talented second-year wideout who put on a mini show late in his rookie season with some highlight-reel catches. On the season, Parker posted only 26/494/3, but for most of year it was unclear if he’d even catch a single ball. He missed all of training camp and the opener due to his foot injury and also missed six games after appearing in two contests. Through Week 11, Parker had only 4/49/0 on the season. But from Week 12 on, he posted 22/445/3 and ranked 25th among fantasy WRs with 14.1 FPG, with only one game in that span when he failed to hit 12+ FP. His catch rate was bad (52%), but his YPC average was great (19.0). He was above the league average over that time in points-per-touch, snaps, and targets. He doesn’t have a great passer to work with in Ryan Tannehill, but the QB did seem to develop a good connection with Parker, who finished the season with 85 or more yards in three straight games. Parker’s production was aided by Rishard Matthews being out of the lineup, and he won’t have to worry about Matthews now that he’s off the roster. Parker may still underwhelm us at times in his second season, but adding up all the elements at play here, including a proven OC in Adam Gase being a positive for the passing game, I’d have lean toward the optimistic side with a healthy Parker and tab him as a prime break-out candidate.
Mohamed Sanu (WR, Atl) – Sanu led the NFL in drops in 2014 and was phased out of the Bengal offense in 2015, ranking only 87th in WR targets. His targets were way down, but he does deserve some credit for eliminating the drops (0 this past season). It’s possible he just wasn’t comfortable with a featured role in 2014, which he had at times with A.J. Green in and out of the lineup. But even with the drops, Sanu was very productive with a large role in 2014. From Weeks 3-9, he was actually the 9th-best fantasy wideout after seeing 56 targets those six games (16th most), putting up 32/508/3 with a solid 15.9 YPC. I’d imagine in Atlanta he’ll see a lot more time on the outside with second-year man Justin Hardy likely to work out of the slot often, and that could be a concern for Sanu, who has shown to be at his best out of the slot and against zone coverage. But he was also hand-picked by the team and paid a lot of money to replace Leonard Hankerson and Roddy White, and the situation might be perfect for the type of player Sanu is. I’m sure they have big plans for Sanu working of the beastly Julio Jones, and I’d expect Kyle Shanahan to take full advantage of his versatility as an inside/outside receiver, runner, and even QB (his career passer rating is still perfect). Atlanta’s OL is suddenly one of the league’s better units, and with a good running game and QB pulling the trigger, Sanu should be in a very good position to succeed. His stock is clearly rising heading into 2016 and he has the upside to produce as a very nice WR3.
Phillip Dorsett (WR, Ind) – Not that anyone expected the Colts to retain Andre Johnson, but they did officially release him this month, which opens up a larger role for the 2015 first-round draft pick. In addition, the loss of Coby Fleener, a downfield target in this offense, should also help Dorsett’s chances of carving out a larger role and picking up a serviceable number of targets in 2016 and beyond. Dorsett ran a blazing fast 4.33 in the 40-yard dash at the 2015 Combine, and was arguably the most explosive athlete at the WR position in last year’s draft. Dorsett is only 5’10”, 185 pounds, but he’ll fight for the ball and beat press coverage with his quickness. He does have some injury concerns and needs to improve as a route-runner, but his upside is evident playing here with QB Andrew Luck. Dorsett is set to be their third wideout alongside T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief, and has the upside this year to post similar numbers to Hilton’s rookie season in which he put up 50/861/7. Dorsett will be an intriguing fourth or fifth wideout in fantasy drafts this summer.
Chris Hogan (WR, NE) – Hogan’s been a sneaky-productive and effective player for the last couple of seasons in Buffalo, and he soars up the WR ranks by leaving a limited passing game and Tyrod Taylor to playing with arguably the greatest QB in the history of the game. As mentioned in the Tom Brady writeup, Hogan brings excellent versatility to the table, as he ran about 50% of the routes from the slot last year in Buffalo. He also gives them some needed size at WR, He’ll likely be the “X” receiver when they go 2-wide, and while he’d be better at Z or Y, he’s shown that he can create separation on downfield routes and slip past the defense for big plays. He’s a guy the Pats likely believe can quickly get on the same page as Brady, since he’s excelled when he’s been needed to improvise and adjust his routes. Hogan’s fantasy value is fairly dependent on the status of Danny Amendola, who is set to earn $5 million in base salary in 2016 with a high cap number of $6.8 million, so we’ll see what their depth chart looks like later this year. But no matter what, Hogan’s value is going up from where it was in Buffalo.
Markus Wheaton/Sammie Coates (WRs, Pit) – These two wideouts along with re-signed veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey and new TE Ladarius Green will have to pick up the slack for Martavis Bryant, who is suspended for the entire season (no appeal). Over the last two seasons with Bryant, the Steelers have put up an impressive 28.6 points a game and only 22.2 without him, so replacing Martavis won’t be easy. Antonio Brown’s the best wideout in the game, but Bryant’s big-play ability has been a catalyst for the Steeler offense to explode. He’s also made Wheaton better, as 6 of his 7 TDs the last two seasons have come with Bryant in the lineup (in 11 games without Bryant, Wheaton has only 1 TD). The smart money is on Wheaton – in a contract year in 2016 – settling in as the clear #2 with the best chance to pick up a lot of the slack. But while he’s been fairly reliable and even impressive at times, he’s not consistent. Wheaton did score in four of their last six games of the regular season, and he had a monster game with 9/201/1 against Seattle in Week 12, but defenses were likely focusing on stopping Brown and Bryant. I’m skeptical of Wheaton, but the Bryant suspension will bump his 2016 projection up, for sure. As for Coates, he wasn’t ready to contribute early in the season, but the coaches were thrilled with his progress in the second half, and he flashed with 2 catches for 61 yards in their playoff loss in Denver. Coates’ sleeper value increases, but he’ll have to earn snaps over Heyward-Bey, whom the coaches love, despite the fact that he’s not particularly reliable or consistent. That shouldn’t be a problem if the talented Coates continues his current trajectory, as GM Kevin Colbert stated on 3/20 that they feel good about Coates and his development, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Robert Woods (WR, Buf) – Veteran Percy Harvin is expected to decide on his 2016 fate soon, but I challenge anyone to find me a more brittle and annoying fantasy WR prospect than Percy (who’s been dead to me for years). We’ll see if he decides to grace us with his presence, but even if he does, availability is a major issue, since he’s played in only 28 of a possible 64 games the last four years. Woods is hardly a stud, and his 2015 numbers we mediocre: 47/552/3 on 78 targets (60.3% catch rate, 11.7 YPC) for 8.6 FPG (63rd) in 14 games, averaging 1.54 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). He missed those two games to end the season due to a groin injury, but he did say that he dealt with a torn muscle in his groin the entire year, for what it’s worth. I have no delusions about the Bills truly “opening up” the offense in Tyrod Taylor’s second season as the starter, but it’s fair to expect a little expansion and improvement from Taylor. That would help Woods, a savvy player with good hands and some quickness and run-after-the-catch ability, and who got the team a first down on over 50% of his catches last year. The main point here is that they’re extremely thin at receiver after Sammy Watkins now that Chris Hogan gone. They did on 3/25 re-sign veteran Leonard Hankerson, who was signed off the scrap heap for the end of 2015, but he’s a major injury risk. Woods still very much has a chance to see a noticeable increase in targets and production.
Brandon LaFell (WR, Cin) – In 2014, LaFell posted a career year, with 74/953/7 receiving on 118 targets (62.7%) in 16 games. After the first two games of the year, in which LaFell was held catchless on 6 targets, he actually averaged 15.2 FPG, which ranked him just 0.1 FPG behind teammate Julian Edelman, so he was excellent. I was told that he was a hard worker and quick learner, which explained how he assimilated himself into this complex offense so quickly. But LaFell underwent off-season foot surgery in 2015 and then never looked right upon returning in Week 7 after missing the entire spring and summer. He had major issues with drops, his route running was sloppy, and he lacked explosiveness even when he did catch the ball. After his release from the Patriots earlier this year, it looked like his fantasy prospects were grim, but he did land in a good situation. The Bengals desperately needed another WR to play next to A.J. Green, and LaFell can be described as a combination of departed wideouts Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu in that he can line up outside and do some damage down the field, yet he’s versatile enough to play the slot, where he is expected to line up often in 2016. Jones and Sanu combined for 151 targets and 98/1210/4 last year, and it’s realistic to believe LaFell, if he’s right, can put up at least half of those catch and yardage totals, which at least puts him on the fantasy radar. Having a capable body in the mix is also solid news for QB Andy Dalton, who cupboard at receiver was really thin after Green and TE Tyler Eifert.
Coby Fleener (TE, NO) – Fleener can be inconsistent catching the ball and underwhelming overall, so for us to get truly excited about him for fantasy, he needs to be in an ideal situation. He was in a good environment in Indy, but with another capable TE in the mix with Dwayne Allen and plenty of offensive weapons in Indy, his upside had been capped. That’s not the case in New Orleans, where they lack playmakers for their HOF QB. And regarding his drops, the fact is that his drop rate compares favorably to other high-end guys (only 3 drops in 2015, for example). He just seems to drop passes in dramatic fashion at times, which increases the attention on his shaky hands. His blocking has actually improved lately, but Fleener will unquestionably focus on receiving in New Orleans, which re-signed Michael Hoomanawanui as a blocking TE. And with all due respect to his boy Andrew Luck, Fleener couldn’t be playing with a better QB than Drew Brees, who’s helped Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham reach stardom at the position. Fleener will be a moveable chess piece for Sean Payton (who is also an upgrade at play-caller for Fleener), but he’ll also be a huge factor in the red zone, especially with Marques Colston out of the mix. He can get it done inside the 20, as 11 of the 6’6” Fleener’s 18 career TDs have come in the red zone, and the Saints threw 11 TD passes to the TE in 2015. Fleener has to be considered a TE1 on a team that coaxed a 74/825/6 season out of the ancient Ben Watson – who, admittedly, is still a very good player and was in the offense for three years – but his appeal will be a little more clear in a couple of months, when we start getting some usable ADP data.
Ladarius Green (TE, Pit) – We’ve been enamored with Green’s upside potential for over three years, and we’re about to find out exactly what that is on the Steelers. Green isn’t a typical Steeler TE in that he’s not a great blocker (although he’s made great strides there) and is known for his speed and ability to make acrobatic catches. As for his potential in a featured role, we did get a glimpse in 2015, and the results were excellent. Green got a big opportunity to be a starter to begin 2015 with Antonio Gates suspended the first four games, and Green did well with 14/174/2 in the three games he appeared in. From Weeks 1-7 (six games), he was actually a top-10 producer, with 26/304/4. Green is still a small leap of faith this year because he’s never caught more than 37 passes in a season, but it’s hard to focus on that because he’s played behind a still-effective Gates, who’s one of the best receiving TEs of all time. Green’s definitely progressed since first arriving as a raw prospect in 2012 while learning from one of the best TEs of all time. He’s a potential matchup nightmare for LBs and safeties with plenty of other Steeler weapons to worry about, and he should be a terrific upside-oriented TE2 this year, especially since Martavis Bryant is suspended for the whole season (no appeal).
Dwayne Allen (TE, Ind) – I’m definitely more intrigued by Coby Fleener in New Orleans, but I haven’t forgotten about his former teammate Allen, who is poised to take over the TE pass-catching duties for the first time in Indy. Allen has missed 21 games in the last three seasons, but the Colts committed a lot of money to a player who hasn’t played a full 16-game season since his rookie year in 2012 and who’s caught only 46 passes total the last three years. He was essentially used as a sixth offensive linemen last season, but TE-friendly OC Rob Chudzinski told him he’d be used differently and promised him a bigger role in the offense. And as our guy Mike Horn has explored this past fall when the Colts fired OC Pep Hamilton and promoted Chud, TE has the most upside of the fantasy positions under Chudzinski. Allen’s not tall for a TE at 6’3”, but that low center of gravity helps his blocking, and he’s still been incredibly productive in the red zone at times. For example, in 2014, he scored 8 TDs on only 29 receptions and scored in seven of their first eight games. Allen won’t be a sexy fantasy pick this year, and he could be TD-dependent on a team with myriad offensive weapons, but he’s definitely a very worthy TE2 with legit starter potential, and he shouldn’t command a particularly expensive draft pick.
Zach Miller (TE, Chi) – I’ve been very aware of Miller dating back to his days with the Jaguars because I’m always all over athletic TEs who can bring some juice to the equation. But heading into 2015, Miller was completely out of my mind because he hadn’t played in an NFL game since 2011 (injuries in each of the last three years, including a foot in 2014). He wound up putting together a career year in 15 games (missing Week 17 with a toe injury). Miller posted 34/439/5 receiving on 46 targets (an excellent 73.9% catch rate, 12.9 YPR), averaging 7.2 FPG, ranking him tied for 28th among all TEs. Quickly forming a productive relationship with QB Jay Cutler, Miller, in the last three games he played – all with Martellus Bennett injured – posted 18/211/1 receiving on 20 targets, averaging 15.0 FPG. That ranked him 5th over that span among all TEs. Miller showed more big-play ability than Bennett, and he looks ready to be a #1 TE. The team did re-sign Rob Housler and they’ve also tendered former Saint Josh Hill a RFA offer, but you can’t blame them for wanting some protection in case the oft-injured Miller misses more time. If healthy, Miller is easily their best option at the position and will have TE1 upside, which makes him an excellent choice as your TE2.
Jared Cook (TE, GB) – The Packers signed Cook to only a one-year deal ($3.65 million), but it’s rare for them to make a free agent move for a “name” player, so the signing was pretty revealing in that they clearly want to upgrade the position, as we’ve been saying dating back to last year (and as I wrote in this article on 3/25 in the Richard Rodgers writeup). Cook’s talent has always outweighed his production, and that was true once again in 2015 when he played in 16 games but posted just 39/481/0 on 74 targets (52.7%, 12.3 YPR). I don’t blame the Rams’ passing-game woes on Cook because their QBs and OL were awful, but Cooks underachieved now for years. Granted, expectations are high based on his talent, but his career has been underwhelming. I do have some questions about his ability to quickly pick up this offense and get on the same page as Aaron Rodgers, which hasn’t been easy for anyone to do rapidly, and I’m sure Rodgers will remain in the mix and will cap Cooks’ upside at least early in the season. However, I have to recognize how good the Packers are at evaluating talent, especially at receiver, and the few times they’ve signed a name free agent, it’s worked out well (like Julius Peppers). And Cook will have a good chance to make big plays with Rodgers, the best QB he’s ever played with, as the Packers greatly value his ability to make big plays and be a major threat in the middle of the field. We obviously can’t count on consistent fantasy production from Cook, but he’ll have the chance to be a TE2 playing in the Packer passing game, and I can see him potentially going from a streaming option to a solid weekly starter as the season progresses. He compares closely to a former man-crush of mine in Jermichael Finley, who at times had major fantasy juice in this offense.
Brock Osweiler (QB, Hou) – The Texans are high on their decision to open up the vault for Osweiler, and in late March HC Bill O’Brien talked about how happy they were with their decision to sign him. O’Brien talked about how they studied all of his snaps from last year and came away impressed by his toughness, accuracy, and leadership. There’s no question he’s an upgrade for Houston, but is Houston an upgrade for him in terms of fantasy? DeAndre Hopkins is a star, but Houston has to be considered a downgrade for Osweiler. The Texans lost two starters on the OL this year (C Ben Jones and RG Brandon Brooks), which is a concern. They did upgrade their RB situation by signing Lamar Miller, whose receiving and homerun hitting ability should help the young QB, but other than Hopkins, there’s not much else on the roster at WR and TE. And with only seven starts under his belt (a solid 5-2 record), Osweiler is hardly a proven commodity. His numbers were mediocre, but his game tape offered a little more promise. Osweiler proved he can make all the throws and that he’s willing to stand tall in the pocket and is able to go through his progressions. On the downside, Osweiler is a huge target at 6’7” and he took some vicious shots while trying to make throws from the pocket, so his long-term availability may be an issue. Barring a surprise addition to bolster their receiving corps, Osweiler’s a mediocre back-up option, since shaky supporting cast should limit his fantasy output in 2016 on a team that’s strengths lie on the other side of the ball.
Matt Forte/Bilal Powell (RBs, NYJ) – The Jets have spent time this week at the owners’ meetings downplaying Forte’s age (30), and I’d agree with their assessment that he can still play at a very high level. He did miss three games in November with a sprained MCL, but he also averaged 16.5 FPG, which ranked him 8th among all RBs. Forte posted a strong 218/898/4 rushing (4.1 YPC) and 44/389/3 receiving on 58 targets (75.9%, 8.8 YPR). He still looked like the same back by the eyeball test, and at 0.92 FP/touch and 0.44 FP/snap, Forte was well above league average in both categories, so it’s fair to believe he still has some gas left in the tank. He’ll essentially replace Chris Ivory, but they view him as a 3-down back, so he’s going to do more than Ivory did, which is a problem for Powell, who at 1.15 FP/touch last year ranked 7th among RBs with 100 or more touches in 2015. That’s in our site default PPR scoring system, and it’s hard to envision Powell’s matching that production with Forte in the mix. The Jets do love Powell, who was re-signed after they signed Forte, and from Weeks 11-16, he ranked 6th among RBs with 16.4 FPG, and was far more effective than Ivory. But even though he’s arguably a better pass protector than Forte, Powell’s going to lose a lot of his PPR appeal while sharing catches with Forte. Even worse for these two, the Jets also signed the solid Khiry Robinson, who in theory can vulture short TDs from both guys and Forte in particular (Forte converted just 3/12 goal-line carries last year, a 25% rate). The Jets have had a lot of success with older players like Forte, but we’d feel a lot better about him if he slipped a little to the 40-50 overall range. As for Powell, he realistically should be drafted for depth as a fourth RB.
T.J. Yeldon/Chris Ivory (RBs, Jac) – Teams need more than one quality RB on their roster, so I totally understand why the Jags were willing to offer Ivory starter’s money even though he’ll split carries with the promising Yeldon. But the bottom line is that it’s not good for Yeldon’s potential, and moving from the Jets to the Jags is also a negative for Ivory. Ivory proved himself a capable receiver last season, but he also showed why he’s best suited as part of a rotation: he’s a violent, determined runner, but he’s often banged up as a result, and at times he has shown that he’s much less effective when he’s not close to 100%. The Jags will be able to dial back on his workload, which should net positive NFL returns. The same may be said for Yeldon, whose 77.4% snap share was #3 among all RBs, but whose production wasn’t proportionate with his workload. Yeldon also succumbed to injury and missed the final three games of the year with an MCL sprain while also dealing with a variety of other physical ailments, so both players have some injury concerns. We’d give Yeldon the edge in passing situations, but Ivory’s a good bet to handle short yardage and goal-line opportunities, making this backfield a potential headache. I’d still lean to the ascending Yeldon as the better fantasy pick, but that’s pending both player’s ADP (it’s a little early to get that data, at least reliably in terms of where it will be this summer). But there’s little doubt both player’s average draft positions will suffer based on the Ivory signing, so both are downgrades.
Darren McFadden (RB, Dal) – With receiving specialist Lance Dunbar re-signing with the team and veteran Alfred Morris added to the fold, the off-season loser here is McFadden. McFadden’s still going to have value as their most well-rounded back, and according to owner Jerry Jones, he will remain their “starter.” When Jerry comments on personnel, I usually assume the opposite of what he says is true, but it’s really just a matter of semantics; all three of these backs will play meaningful snaps. McFadden last year was below the league average, with .72 points per touch (league avg was .81), which is a concern because his touches will be going down. McFadden played in all 16 games for the second straight season (seriously), and posted a rock-solid fantasy season, but you have to be concerned with the fact that Morris is probably a better runner in this zone scheme, and Dunbar caught 21 of his 23 targets last year for a ridiculous 91.3% catch rate, so McFadden may just be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none for the Cowboys this year. McFadden is still only 29 (in August), but he obviously has a lengthy history of injuries, so it’s hard to have much confidence in his ability to produce consistently for fantasy now that he won’t own every role in the backfield as he did for much of 2015. It could happen, but I wouldn’t I bet on it.
Dion Lewis/James White (RBs, NE) – Offering analysis on the Patriot backfield can be an exercise in futility because of their week-to-week approach to the position, but I do think it’s fair to give these two players at least a slight downgrade due to the signing of veteran Donald Brown. For all we know, Brown may not even make the team, but if he does, I can see him as a meaningful contributor, which would lower both players’ snap and touch totals in 2016. With LeGarrette Blount seemingly out of the equation, one could make the argument that Brown is their best lead runner right now, but his receiving prowess is what concerns me for Lewis and White. Brown’s an inconsistent player, but I can see why the Patriots signed him because he’s known as a very savvy pass protector (aside from that notable incident with Peyton Manning as a rookie), and he’s a good receiver out of the backfield. He’s also fumbled only four times in his NFL career, going over five years between lost fumbles. White’s role was probably going to be sketchy no matter what, so the Brown signing hurts him most. Lewis is a lot more dynamic and multiple in what he can do, and if healthy coming off his ACL, he’ll have a significant role. But Brown’s good enough to take away from Lewis’ snaps, touches, and fantasy production.
Martavis Bryant (WR, Pit) – This is not related to free agency, but Bryant’s stock hit rock bottom for 2016 during this year’s free agency frenzy, as he’s been suspended for the entire season. Bryant won’t appeal, but the good news for his long-term value is that the Steelers and the Rooney family aren’t giving up on him, and he will continue to employ him while he gets the help he needs. He’s an obvious downgrade for this coming season, but his long-term value is in question as well, since his next slip-up will likely mean an indefinite suspension that could extend beyond even a full season (like Josh Gordon).
Demaryius Thomas/Emmanuel Sanders (WRs, Den) – It’s clear that Thomas’ and Sanders’ best QB option in 2016 and beyond was Brock Osweiler, but he’s now Houston’s property, so QB is a legit concern for this excellent duo. Bringing in veteran Mark Sanchez was a decent move, since he’s had success in a similar situation years back with the Jets, but for these guy’s sake, let’s hope they get another viable starter to compete with Sanchez, who has a career 55% completion rate outside of Chip Kelly’s offense. No matter what, they’re not going to get a better option than Osweiler, so we’ll have to pull back a little from expectations and projections this summer.
Tyler Lockett (WR, Sea) – Lockett is an ascending player heading into his second season, as evidenced by his improved play in the second half of his rookie season, but Jermaine Kearse’s (somewhat surprising) return to Seattle definitely tampers with Lockett’s 2016 expectations. Kearse is a nice puzzle piece for Seattle, but he’s an average NFL WR. And while his recovery is reportedly going well, Jimmy Graham is in danger of being limited to open the season coming off his patellar tendon tear in Week 12 of 2015, plus Doug Baldwin is also bound to regress significantly from his #2 fantasy WR finish from Week 10 on. So Lockett still has room to grow his role in this effective passing game. But Seattle will continue to lean heavily on their running game, and contrary to popular believe, they really weren’t throwing the ball more in the second half of the season; they just were much more effective when they did throw it. From Week 11 on last season, Lockett posted 30/404/5 receiving for 14.6 FPG, ranking him 25th among WRs during that span. Lockett has already proven he’s a big-time playmaker as a returner and as a receiver, so he can stay in the 25-30 range in terms of fantasy production. It’s just hard to project that strong of a finish on a team that will continue to throw it fewer than 500 times a season.
Maxx Williams (TE, Bal) – The Ravens signing of veteran Ben Watson says a lot about what they think about Crockett Gillmore’s health for the upcoming season – he needs a shoulder surgery – and what they think of Williams’ progress, or lack thereof, during his rookie season. Williams has the athleticism and the hands to eventually develop into a TE1 playing with Joe Flacco. I was optimistic about his chances of breaking out soon, but the Ravens clearly don’t think Williams is ready to take over as the starter in his second season, so Watson will serve as the bridge until the talented Williams is ready to take over the position full time. We clearly have to lower our expectations for Williams heading into the 2016 season because it would take one heck of a performance by him in training camp to win the starting job. Watson is 35 years old and time will start to catch up to him at some point, but his presence should keep Williams out of the TE2 conversation for most redraft leagues in 2016.
Richard Rodgers (TE, GB) – There was talk of the Packers being interested in veteran Martellus Bennett, but we’ll never know for sure because the Bears weren’t going to trade him within the division to their hated rivals. But had the team been unable to work out a trade, they may have released Bennett, who at that point would likely have the Packers’ full attention and interest. The Bennett situation was a stay of execution for the underwhelming Rodgers, however, as the team signed veteran free agent Jared Cook. The Packers could even also draft Hunter Henry, by far the best TE prospect in this year’s rookie crop, as they only signed Cook to a 1-year deal. The bottom line with Rodgers is that he simply isn’t a dynamic or play-making TE, and it looks like his opportunity to be the main TE is over in Green Bay. Updated: 3/28 (moved from We’ll See to Downgrades).
Scott Chandler (TE, FA) – Chandler had his moments as a Patriot, but it didn’t really work out for him as the #2 TE in New England. Chandler was a 2-week WW producer Weeks 12-13, and he was the #6 TE those two weeks with 9/119/2. But right after that, including the playoffs, he didn’t catch a pass in the final five games of the season. He won’t be back with Martellus Bennett added this off-season, so the 31-year old is likely off the fantasy radar.
Russell Wilson (QB, Sea) – I was at the Combine last month when HC Pete Carroll was asked about how Seattle “opened up” the offense in the second half of the season last year, a point Carroll correctly disputed. Wilson attempted 234 passes the first eight weeks of the season (29.1 per game) and 249 passes the second half (31.1), so the increase was negligible. As Carroll stated, they were just much more effective when they did throw it the final eight games. That’s blatantly obvious when you see that Wilson was only 24th in scoring with 20.0 PPG through Week 8 and 2nd with 29.9 PPG after that in his final eight games. It was an insane turnaround – one of the most dramatic ones I’ve ever seen – and while their improved OL was a catalyst, their unheralded trio of receivers really stepped up, especially Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett. Veteran Jermaine Kearse was in on the fun as well, but the feeling after the season ended was that he would likely depart as a FA. Kearse did not, so Wilson will once again have his triumvirate at receiver. I do think that’s important because, while they still lack a stud at the position, their receiving corps is much greater than the sum of its parts. These three wideouts play very well together and with Wilson. We’ve also heard positive reports that Wilson’s stud TE will be ready for Week 1, and Jimmy Graham was starting to heat up before suffering his serious knee injury. With an ADP around 50 last year, I felt Wilson was being overvalued. That was a great call for exactly half the season and a horrendous call the other half. With Kearse back and Graham seemingly on track, I highly doubt I’ll be viewing Wilson as overvalued this time around.
Matthew Stafford (QB, Det) – It would be easy and logical to downgrade Stafford after Calvin Johnson made his retirement official earlier this month, but the Lions acted swiftly in free agency and brought in a quality receiver in Marvin Jones, who our Greg Cosell has believed to be considerably underrated for several years now. Jones isn’t as gifted and imposing as Calvin, obviously, but adding him was a nice start for the Lions, and they may not be done since WR is in play early in next month’s draft for Detroit. Stafford and the Lions were a complete bust the first half of 2015, but when Jim Bob Cooter took over the offense, things changed dramatically. One of the main things JBC did was to dumb down the blocking and protection schemes, and the results were evident, as the hits on Stafford reduced 35% and his numbers soared (19 TDs, 2 INTs, 70% completion rate). Losing Calvin will hurt, but this is an offense that spreads the ball around to a lot of players, and Detroit does still have many strong options, including RBs Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah, who are both expected to be more involved. Add in #1A guy Golden Tate and a talented TE who made progress last year in Eric Ebron, plus some handy slot options in T.J. Jones, Jeremy Kerley, and possibly Lance Moore, and Stafford’s supporting cast looks pretty good even before the draft. His ADP should be suppressed by the loss of Calvin, so Stafford should present some value in fantasy drafts 75-100 picks in.
Philip Rivers (QB, SD) – He’s been remarkably consistent the last three seasons, but more so in 2016, his production was a function of volume, as he threw it a career-high 662 times, almost 100 more attempts than the year before. The Chargers have talked Melvin Gordon up this off-season, and while I remain skeptical, he can’t get any worse than he was last year. Rivers did lose an intriguing weapon in Ladarius Green, but I did really like the addition of Travis Benjamin, who impressed in a tough situation in Cleveland last year. Benjamin fits in well as their new deep threat with Keenan Allen, Stevie Johnson, and of course the re-signed Antonio Gates in the short-to-intermediate area. If these guys can all stay relatively healthy, Rivers should avoid the second-half skid he’s offered his fantasy owners the last two seasons (less than 20 points in 6 of his final 8 games last year). Also, Rivers had arguably his best season in 2013 with Ken Whisenhunt as the OC, and the Whiz is back after the team let 2015 OC Frank Reich go.
Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Min) – I have major doubts about Teddy’s ability to ever be a strong fantasy producer, but my main takeaway from 2015 with Bridgewater is that he has little chance to consistently produce unless he’s behind an excellent OL. His lack of arm strength and inability to make big plays are also issues, but due to his small stature and low release point, he needs a very clean pocket to consistently throw the ball from it. He didn’t have that last year, and he usually struggled, even with Adrian Peterson behind him. The Vikings seem to understand this because they’ve made several important moves to address the OL, like signing veterans Alex Boone (G) and Andre Smith (T), two very solid veterans (and good run-blockers for Peterson). Coupled with the return of Pro-Bowl caliber C John Sullivan, which could allow Joe Berger, who was excellent in 2015 filling in for Sullivan, to move back to G, and the Viking OL should improve considerably. It’s unknown if RT Phil Loadholt will be healthy and effective just yet, but they now have depth with T.J. Clemmings showing some promise last year. Overall, the Viking OL has incredible depth now and should be one of the 10 best in the league, which will give Bridgewater a fighting chance to elevate his game and significantly improve on his underwhelming 2015 season.
Jay Cutler (QB, Chi) – Losing OC Adam Gase and veteran Matt Forte won’t be easy to recover from, but the Bears have the people in place to do it. There’s continuity with Dowell Loggains taking over for Gase, since he was the QB coach last year and won’t make many changes to the system. He has a good relationship with Cutler and played a large role in the QB posting a career-high 92.3 passer-rating in 2015. And Cutler still has a productive receiving threat in his backfield in Jeremy Langford. Langford does need to improve his receiving ability, but I’d think he will in his second season, and he’s a much better big-play threat in the passing game than Forte. Most important, Cutler’s Bears retained stud Alshon Jeffery, which is huge. Teamed with Kevin White on the outside, Cutler has a potentially dominant WR duo and some depth behind them in Eddie Royal and Marquess Wilson, who had some nice moments in 2015. Cutler did lose a complete TE in Martellus Bennett, but at least in Zach Miller there’s legit potential, as Cutler quickly got on the same page as Miller and the duo made some big plays. Things could get rough if Cutler’s receiving corps has more injury problems (and they had plenty last year), but things look promising on paper for Cutler, who has a big fan in player-friendly HC John Fox.
DeMarco Murray (RB, Ten) – He’s holding steady for now, but if the Titans use the #1 pick in the draft on stud T Laremy Tunsil, I’ll feel pretty darn good about Murray, whose lack of work in 2015 I view as a positive (Murray said recently he feels like he took the year off last year). If they get Tunsil, they’ll be able to move T Taylor Lewan to the right side, and with C Ben Jones added from the Texans, the Titan OL could quickly transform into one of the better groups in the league. And with the addition of Rishard Matthews, the Titans have an intriguing receiving corps with four legit WR/TE weapons for Marcus Mariota, who should improve in his second season. And then it would simply come down to health for Murray, since it’s obvious that he’s going to get a lot of work as a runner in Mike Mularkey’s offense, and Murray is also easily their best receiver out of the backfield. My initial reaction to the Murray trade wasn’t overly positive, but the more I think about his situation the more obvious it is that Murray will simply need to stay on the field in order to produce very good totals – especially if they upgrade their OL with a terrific prospect in Tunsil.
Doug Martin (RB, TB) – Martin’s back with Tampa, which was almost certainly the right move for both parties, as he’ll continue to form one of the NFL’s best tandems with Charles Sims. But for fantasy, we have to remember that Martin was far less effective on a per touch basis than was Sims, which is common in PPR scoring when one back specializes in the receiving role – .75 FP/touch for Martin to 1.16 FP/touch for Sims (league average .81). One thing that could help Martin would be improvement along the offensive line. LT Donovan Smith and RG Ali Marpet should improve in 2016 after solid rookie seasons, and the Bucs replaced the retiring Logan Mankins with former Seahawk J.R. Sweezy in free agency (though if this is an upgrade at all is debatable). We’ll see if the Bucs address the line in the draft, but they at least have the foundation for a really good offense, and the continuity factor should help Martin’s chances of duplicating his fine 2015 season.
Stefon Diggs (WR, Min) – The departure of Mike Wallace and his 39/473/2 isn’t going to make Diggs a fantasy stud, but when you look at their current depth chart at WR, it includes a group that put up a pitiful 57 catches total all of 2015, which Diggs himself almost eclipsed, despite playing in only 13 games as a rookie. The Vikings could easily use their #1 pick on a wideout, but I’d still expect Diggs to be Teddy Bridgewater’s go-to wideout in 2016, so his value is on the rise. Although the duo cooled off considerably after a hot start, what a start that was. Diggs caught 19 of his first 28 targets (strong 70% catch rate) for 324 yards (strong 17.1 YPC) and 1 TD. The duo quickly got on the same page, and the NFL game clearly wasn’t too big for Diggs. He was impressive, lining up at all three receiver spots and running good routes, dropping only 2 passes, and tracking the ball well. Diggs is a ball player, plain and simple, so as long as he keeps his head on straight and continues to mature, he’s only going to get better. Perhaps most encouraging so far this off-season for Diggs is how the Vikings have been pouring resources into their OL. As stated in the Bridgewater writeup, better protection is critical for Teddy’s development, and the Vikings definitely understand this and now have what could be one of deepest and best OLs in the business.
Martellus Bennett (TE, NE) – One could argue that he’s a downgrade moving on from Chicago, but had the Bears retained him and also re-signed Zach Miller, Bennett would have been a slight downgrade, so I’ll call Bennett holding steady in such a great situation playing in New England. We’ve done an extensive analysis on Bennett’s chances with the Patriots, but it’s difficult to nail down Bennett’s value as the TE2 here. Bennett will obviously see his catch and yardage totals dip in this offense, but he still has a chance to be streaming TE option from week to week, depending on the just how much the Pats will use 2-TE sets. Bennett has never topped 6 TDs in a season, but that could change this season as Brady will better use him in the red zone this year. Overall, I’d still consider him to be a viable TE2 for fantasy.
Jacob Tamme (TE, Atl) – The Falcons have arguably one of the worst histories at the TE position in the league, and their best TE ever spent most of his career in Kansas City. There’s also Alge Crumpler and, uh, that’s it. That trend is prevailing in free agency, as the Falcons have once again stayed on the sidelines when it comes to acquiring a TE of note. To be fair, Tamme was notable last year, posting a solid 59/657/1 receiving on 80 targets (73.8%, 11.1 YPR). He averaged 8.7 FPG to rank him 21st among all TEs. Tamme actually was second behind Julio Jones on the club in receiving yards, which is an indication of just how awful the Falcon passing game was overall. Tamme was fine, putting up a career-high in yardage at age 30, but he was a hit-or-miss (just six games of 10 or more FP, and caught more than 4 balls in only 4 of 15 games). He was a low-end streamer TE, and only in PPR leagues given his lack of TDs (he had just 1 goal-line and 8 red-zone targets all year). You’d think Atlanta doesn’t want Tamme playing 72.2% of their snaps again, but unless they add the top rookie at the position in the draft in Hunter Henry, Tamme just might (this is overall a pretty weak TE class other than Henry).
Sam Bradford (QB, Phi) – While Bradford played well in the second half of last season, we find it really hard to consider making much of a fantasy investment in him in 2016. That’s because, for now, the Eagles are still a transitioning team. Their OL has improved with the signing of RG Brandon Brooks, but their RB depth chart remains unsettled with DeMarco Murray gone, and the WR position doesn’t seem stable, either. Nelson Agholor had an injury- and mistake-plagued rookie season, Josh Huff never really broke out, and the Eagles look like they’re going to move their best wideout, Jordan Matthews, out of the slot and onto the perimeter. Can Matthews win on a consistent basis there? Adding veteran Reuben Randle does potentially give him a nice trio at the top of their depth chart with Matthews and Agholor, but Randle is also one of our least favorite receivers in the league. Most of his 2015 numbers were actually quite good – he averaged an impressive 2.05 FP per target – but he remained highly inconsistent, and the Giants had no interest in bringing him back. They did also add veteran Chris Givens, who has played with Bradford and can at least give them some speed as a rotational deep threat. Bradford signed what is essentially a one-year deal with Philly, while new coach Doug Pederson brought in Chase Daniel on a contract that is worth far more than typical back-up money. Pederson made it evident this month that Bradford is his #1, but if he struggles, Daniel is waiting. Bradford was well-regarded last season as a leader, and he’s taken that a step farther this off-season by hosting Matthews and TE Zach Ertz at his Oklahoma home for some off-season work. But he’s never been more than a streamer for fantasy, and looking at Alex Smith’s numbers in Pederson’s offense, we’d be shocked if he’s more than that in 2016, even if his on-field play is strong.
Robert Griffin III (QB, Cle) – He at least has a home where he’ll get a chance to play, so that’s a start for RG3. In fact, it’s fair to believe that RG3 will have a leg up on all comers to open the season as the team’s starter, since veteran Josh McCown is expected to be traded or released now that RGIII is in the fold, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The Browns could also a QB with the #2 pick, but these are moves that could actually work out for both parties, since either Carson Wentz or Jared Goff can spend most or all of their rookie seasons on the bench, which would be ideal scenarios for both. RG3 has to prove he can stay healthy, of course, but at just 26, Griffin’s body should at least be rested after sitting out the entire 2015 season. If Griffin is to have a chance to enjoy a resurgence, he’ll need a good QB coach to effectively maximize his skill set and potential, and he has that in Brown HC Hue Jackson, who is known as an excellent QB mentor and manager. The Browns are still waiting on word regarding suspended start Josh Gordon, but if he’s reinstated, RG3 would have some talent to work with, but his supporting cast would still be suspect overall. We’ll see how this situation unfolds, but RG3 at least now has a pulse. Now, it comes down to what the Browns do with their top pick in the draft.
David Johnson (RB, Ari) – It’s not easy to say Johnson should be a top-15 pick now that they’ve re-signed veteran Chris Johnson, but we’re inclined to say it anyway. CJ2K was fine last year, but he was really just a guy. Playing in 11 games before a broken leg ended his campaign, CJ managed 196/814/3 rushing (4.2 YPC), though just 6/58/0 receiving on 13 targets. Among RBs with 200 or more touches, only Alfred Morris (96.6 FP) scored fewer total FP than did CJ (111.2). CJ also averaged only 0.55 FP/touch, well below the league average of 0.81, and ahead of only Morris and Melvin Gordon among RBs with 100 or more touches. CJ played 48.1% of the Cardinals’ offensive snaps when active, but I’d have to think that number will be down to the 35-40% range at best. After Week 12 last year, Johnson took over the backfield, playing 67.9% of the Cardinals’ offensive snaps over the final five weeks of the season, and he averaged 22.6 FPG, which ranked him #1 among all RBs. Moreover, in fantasy playoff Weeks Fifteen and Sixteen, Johnson was incredible. He posted 44.9 FP against Philly in the former, and 21.7 FP against Green Bay in the latter. The Cardinals re-signing CJ2K isn’t wonderful news for Johnson, but David is clearly going to get plenty of snaps and touches in 2016. And since he averaged 1.32 FP/touch, behind only Danny Woodhead (1.37) among RBs with 150 or more touches (PPR) and was at 0.51 FP/snap, nearly double the league average of 0.29, and most among RBs with 150 or more touches, we still think he’s worth a top-15 pick overall.
Latavius Murray (RB, Oak) – So far the Raiders haven’t made a RB move in free agency, and to be fair to Murray they did add a dominant run blocker in G Kelechi Osemele. Paired inside with the solid Rodney Hudson, the Raider OL should create more room for Murray in 2016, which could actually help him better 2015’s numbers (#10 in total scoring). However, this is a good draft for quality RBs who project best as 1A or complementary types, and the Raiders could easily snag one of those guys. Should they use a 2nd- or 3rd- round draft pick on a one of the top backs (other than Ezekiel Elliott), like Kenneth Dixon, who we like a lot out of Louisiana Tech, that would be a game-changer for Latavius. So Murray’s 2016 and beyond value really hinges on what the Raiders do or do not do in the draft. For what it’s worth, HC Jack Del Rio said this week at the owner’s meetings that, while they’d “like to add a RB, it’s not a glaring need.” That could be construed as an endorsement for Murray, but we won’t know until after the draft.
Eddie Lacy (RB, GB) – According to HC Mike McCarthy, things are going well with Lacy as he works with his P90X trainer. The year’s off to a good start for Lacy, but he has to keep it up because his margin for error has slipped. We’ll find out after the draft if it’s slipped a little more than we think, since Green Bay drafting a back as early as Day Two (2nd and 3rd rounds) isn’t out of the question. Regardless, Lacy needs to stay slim and trim to maintain his status as the top back, since McCarthy made it clear after the 2015 season that Lacy cannot play at the weight he was at last year. And since James Starks has returned after testing the FA market, McCarthy and the Packers have a trusted and reliable alternative to Lacy. I don’t think I can stomach ever taking Lacy in the top-24 again, but assuming the Packers don’t add a back of note, and assuming he doesn’t blow up like a deer tick leading up to training camp, Lacy should probably be a top-36 pick still. However, there could be something to the team’s reported interest in Ronnie Hillman. A back like Hillman is a real possibility, since they could use some speed and juice at the position.
Ryan Mathews (RB, Phi) – The Eagles have been rumored to be interested in trading Mathews, but as it stands now, he has to be considered a big part of their team, and their lead back. Should they trade him now, they’d be incredibly thin at RB with few options to turn to outside of the draft. Speaking of the draft, that’s going to be the key to Mathews’ fantasy standing. If they don’t use their #1 pick on stud Ezekiel Elliott, the most well-rounded and pro-ready back in the draft, then Mathews would almost certainly have to have a large role. Playing in 13 games, missing three with a serious concussion and a groin problem, Mathews posted 108/539/5 rushing (5.0 YPC) and 20/146/1 receiving on 28 targets (71.4%, 7.3 YPR). Mathews played just 25.5% of the Eagles’ snaps in games in which he was active, and he was a more efficient player than DeMarco Murray, averaging 1.02 FP/snap, well above the league average of 0.81 for RBs, and ahead of Murray’s 0.79. Mathews proved more dynamic in Chip Kelly’s scheme than Murray, especially when it came to getting to the edge on outside zone runs and sweep plays. The
Eagles’ run game was inconsistent all season long, in large part because the offensive line was poor, but they did land a nice upgrade inside at G with the signing of Brandon Brooks (Hou). Mathews is still a major injury risk with ball security issues, but he could certainly enter 2016 with a very large role, pending their direction at his position the rest of the off-season. Kelly is gone, but new OC Doug Pederson comes from KC, where they’ve run a RB-friendly system.
Jeremy Langford/Ka’Deem Carey (RBs, Chi) – Veteran Matt Forte was fully expected to leave as a free agent, due in part to the potential these two have, and with Forte a Jet we can officially upgrade these young backs. But unfortunately for Langford, Carey needs to be in the equation, since it’s clear that HC John Fox likes him, and he did perform well when given chances in 2015. And if the organization was so high on Langford in particular, why did they reportedly offer C.J. Anderson the best deal in the marketplace this off-season? That’s a question that should prompt fantasy owners to temper expectations for Langford. Still, while playing as their top RB from Weeks 9-11 (with Forte inactive), Langford averaged 24.5 FPG, #1 among all RBs over that stretch, so he can clearly produce nicely for fantasy. Langford created explosive plays in the run and passing game, even with poor YPC averages on the ground, but one area he excelled in particular was actually in short yardage, which could be critical as he battles Carey for goal line work. Langford scored on 5 of his 7 goal-line run attempts (71.4%), compared to just 3/12 for Forte (25%). But Langford still has plenty to work on. A former college WR, we were disappointed by his drops and general inefficient play as a receiver, with a league-low 52.4% catch rate among all RBs. And he’s still learning the RB position, based on film and watching some runs he missed. We’d be happy to get him in the 4th round of a 12-team league, but that may not be realistic in a few months, so he could be a tougher call in the 3rd round with Carey in the mix. As for Carey, he’s at least on the radar now as a viable back-of-the-roster RB and Langford handcuff. And that’s if the Bears don’t draft a back, which looks possible given their interest in Anderson.
Ameer Abdullah (RB, Det) – Joique Bell is gone, which looks like a good thing for Abdullah on the surface. But keep in mind that Calvin Johnson’s retirement could constrict the offense a bit more, even if it has to be more focused on the run, and not only is Zach Zenner returning from injury and potentially in the mix, veteran Stevan Ridley could potentially take over most of the power running inside. Abdullah had a disappointing rookie season – plagued with fumbling, his college bugaboo – but Abdullah still has a spectacular level of natural ability, and he’s made it known this off-season that he’s putting himself in a better position to take advantage of it. If he stops fumbling, he should get plenty of work, even if Theo Riddick’s presence limits his upside as a receiver and in PPR formats (a bummer, since Abdullah is a very good receiver overall). We will, however, have to get a feel for Ridley’s potential role. As it stands out, it’s hard to expect too much from Ridley, whose recovery from his 2014 ACL was slow relatively speaking.
Jay Ajayi (RB, Mia) – Ajayi is currently the lead back, but Miami’s generous offer sheet for C.J. Anderson obviously suggests they aren’t thrilled with that prospect, and they’ve also worked out Arian Foster and have reportedly been reaching out to teams for a possible trade for a RB. If they don’t acquire a veteran back, then they’re almost certainly going to draft a back “of note” later this spring. We loved Ajayi coming out of Boise State last year, but remember that he was a fifth-round pick under an old coaching staff, so I’m not yet convinced that he’s going to hold a lot of value in 2015. For now, no matter what happens, Ajayi is in better shape than he’d be in had they re-signed Lamar Miller, but we’ll see what happens over the next month with the rest of free agency and the draft. For the record, we refuse to be concerned about the pedestrian Daniel Thomas, who they signed this week.
Ronnie Hillman (RB, FA) – Hillman remains a free agent, and he clearly wasn’t a priority for the Broncos, who matched Miami’s four-year offer sheet for RFA C.J. Anderson. Bronco VP/GM John Elway erred by letting Anderson hit the RFA market in the first place, but on the flip side, he was correct in identifying Anderson as the first back to bring back. We’ve heard just about zero buzz on Hillman, which based on his poor play last year, makes a lot of sense. He’s just 24 and can offer a team some speed in a change-of-pace role, but he was overused and ineffective last season. He may still return to Denver if there are no other options, but Anderson is getting paid to be the man. The Packers have reportedly been looking at Hillman as a possible option and that would be an intriguing situation, as the versatile veteran would give them some juice at the position in a complementary role.
Source: Fantasy Guru
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