Original Post: February 4, 2016
Arizona Cardinals (13-3; 1st in NFC West)
Carson Palmer – It ended poorly with a collapse in the playoffs, but Palmer had an excellent 2015 season despite coming off an ACL tear, and he was one of the most valuable and consistent fantasy assets at the QB position. In 16 games, Palmer went 342/538 (63.6%) for 4671 yards (8.68 YPA), with 35 TDs and 11 INTs. He added 25/24/1 rushing to average 23.9 FPG, which ranked him 7th among QBs who made multiple starts. And it was the consistency that really made Palmer great. He posted 20 or more FP in 14 of his 16 starts, and he was benched at halftime of the Cardinals’ Week Seventeen game with the Seahawks after putting up just 10.5 FP, with the Cardinals getting absolutely blown out. Unfortunately, Palmer’s other game under 20 FP came in Week Fifteen, when he put up a solid-but-not-spectacular 17.7 FP against Philly. It was in that game that Palmer jammed the index finger on his throwing hand, an injury that very likely contributed to Palmer’s playoff meltdown that included 8 turnovers in two games (he didn’t play in the Pro Bowl because of the injury). Still, that can’t limit all that Palmer accomplished during the regular season. He had nine games of 300 or more passing yards, 11 games of 2 or more passing TDs, and he account for at least 1 TD (passing or rushing) in every game. Palmer threw for fewer than 200 yards just three times. One of them was in Week Seventeen, after most fantasy seasons are done, and he was benched at halftime. The other two times came in Weeks Two and Five, when he threw 4 and 3 TDs, respectively. Among QBs who made 16 starts, Palmer’s 0.71 FP/PA ranked him #3 in the league, behind Cam Newton and Russell Wilson (running QBs typically do better in this category, for obvious reasons). Palmer also averaged 0.37 FP/snap, well above the league average of 0.27. Palmer’s entering his age 37 season, and his playoff performance was abysmal. But all in all, he rebounded well from an ACL tear, and the Cardinals should continue to have one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL in 2016.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Can Palmer rebound from his horrific playoffs? With Drew Stanton a free agent, who will back up Palmer?
David Johnson – A revelation as a rookie, the only thing that was disappointing about DJ’s year is that he didn’t get on the field on a more consistent basis early in the year. In 16 games, Johnson posted 125/581/8 rushing (4.6 YPC) and 36/457/4 receiving on 57 targets (63.2%, 12.7 YPR). With 12 offensive TDs, he ranked tied for 2nd among all RBs, the only RB with fewer than 200 touches in the top five. He averaged 13.2 FPG, which ranked him 16th for the full season at RB. But average really means nothing with Johnson, who played fewer than 20 snaps in six of the Cardinals’ first nine games. Yes, through Week Twelve, Johnson had 8 TDs (including a kickoff return), but he had only 54 offensive touches as Bruce Arians didn’t fully trust him, playing just 23.7% of the club’s offensive snaps to that point. But in Week Twelve, both Chris Johnson (leg) and Andre Ellington (toe) both got hurt. After that, Johnson took over. Playing 67.9% of the Cardinals’ offensive snaps over the final five weeks of the season, Johnson 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. Given that, it’s possible Johnson carried more teams to fantasy championships than just about anyone else. From Weeks One through Twelve, Johnson had 10 touches in a game just twice. In the last five weeks, he had no fewer than 12, and even that came in Week Sixteen, when the Cards blew out the Packers and were able to rest guys (Johnson had already had a huge game). Johnson had 33 touches in Week Fifteen, and 24 in each of Weeks Thirteen and Fourteen. Still, for the full season, he averaged 1.32 FP/touch, behind only Danny Woodhead (1.37) among RBs with 150 or more touches. Perhaps more impressive was Johnson’s 0.51 FP/snap, nearly double the league average of 0.29, and most among RBs with 150 or more touches. The Cardinals were simply a better team with DJ as their lead back; CJ2K gave them pretty much nothing but boring stability, and Ellington can’t stay healthy. DJ made big plays constantly, and while his TD efficiency is hard to match, there’s no reason to think he can’t be a true three-down threat in the future. He had an excellent rookie season, and will be in the discussion for first-round status in 2016.
Chris Johnson – We’ll give CJ2K this: he did far more than we anticipated in 2015. He signed with the Cardinals in August, and pretty much immediately established himself as Arizona’ starting RB. 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. CJ averaged 10.1 FPG, which ranked him 41st among all RBs. 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. Johnson scored just 3 TDs (in only two different games), and despite running for 100 yards in four separate games, he did pretty much nothing to justify playing him as anything more than a flex. His lack of involvement in the passing game didn’t help – he caught a ball in just four of 11 games in which he appeared. All in all, CJ played 48.1% of the Cardinals’ offensive snaps when active, and did everything he could to keep Arizona on schedule. But for fantasy, he was near a zero, a major disconnect with his actual role. He’s not under contract for 2016, and with the emergence of David Johnson, is there a reason for Arizona to bring him back?
Andre Ellington – Ellington was the third-most used Cardinal RB in 2015, despite fantasy owners being generally bullish on him in August (remember, Chris Johnson signed during the preseason). In 10 games, Ellington posted just 45/289/3 rushing (6.4 YPC) and 15/148/0 receiving on 24 targets (62.5%, 9.9 YPR). He averaged 7.7 FPG to rank 60th among all RBs. Ellington played 31.9% of the Cardinals’ snaps in the games in which he was active, but he led the club just once – Week One, with 62.9%. Late in that game, he suffered a PCL sprain, missed the next three games, and opened the door for CJ2K to take over as the lead back. Week One was the only time all year Ellington topped 10 touches in a game. While he made big plays in Week Five and Week Ten to produce the illusion of fantasy value, for the most part he was little more than a change of pace back. And when he went down with a toe injury in Week Twelve, the same week CJ2K broke his leg, the door opened yet again, this time for David Johnson (Ellington missed three more games with the toe injury). So Ellington’s year is basically defined by his absence creating opportunities for players who had more consistent roles with the Cardinals. He’s going to need the off-season to get 100%, but it’s likely he’s back as just a change-up for the Cardinals next season.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Will DJ be given the opportunity to be the Cardinals’ full-time back? If so, when will he be drafted come August? Will CJ2K be back? Will Ellington be any more than a rotational player?
Michael Floyd – Floyd got off to a brutally slow start this season after dislocating three fingers in training camp and needing surgery to repair his hand. His dislocation was so severe that his bones actually broke through the skin on his fingers. He didn’t miss any regular season time but he missed the entire preseason, and he struggled out of the gate with 8/104/0 receiving in first five games. He was a WR2 the rest of the season, posting 44/745/6 for 15.5 FPG in his final 10 games. HC Bruce Arians said of Floyd in January, “If he wouldn’t have broken his hand, I think he would have had a 1500-yard year.” That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but Floyd clearly looked much better once he got over his hand issue. Floyd finished the year with 52/849/6 receiving on 89 targets (58.4% catch rate, 16.3 YPC) for 11.5 FPG (42nd) in 15 games. Floyd missed a game to a hamstring injury and also battled through a knee issue toward the end of the season. He played on 62.5% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.94 FP per target. (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). He had two one-catch games in the final 10 games, but in the other eight games he scored 12+ FP with five 100+ yards games in the mix. Floyd will be only 27 in November and is the complete package with his size (6’2”, 220 pounds) and athleticism, and Arians clearly loves Floyd. He’s looking for a huge year in a contract year, but he’ll of course have to battle Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown for targets once again.
Larry Fitzgerald – It looked like Fitz might be on the downside of his career after his miserable 2014 season. Heck, the rumors were even swirling last January that the Cardinals might part ways with Fitz and his massive contract. Of course, they didn’t, as the two sides restructured his deal in February of 2015, and it turned out that all that Fitz really needed was a healthy Carson Palmer at quarterback. Fitz capped his comeback campaign with one of the more memorable plays of the postseason on his 75-yard catch and run against the Packers. Fitz finished the year with 109/1215/9 receiving on 145 targets (75.2% catch rate, 11.1 YPC) for 17.8 FPG (10th). His 109 catches were a career high, and he scored 12+ FP and had 5+ catches 13 times this season. He played on 89.1% of the snaps this year and averaged an impressive 1.96 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs), which is a nice rate for a chain-moving WR. With Michael Floyd and John Brown doing most of their damage on the outside, Fitzgerald dominated in the middle of the field out of the slot. Palmer used Fitz as his chain-mover and he consistently came up with big catches in traffic. Fitzgerald will be 33 next season and it will be his 13th season, so he could obviously regress some, especially with Floyd and Brown young and still improving in this offense. Still, Fitz obviously showed he still has plenty left in the tank, and he’ll continue to be Palmer’s go-to guy in the pinch.
John Brown – Brown showed massive improvement in his second season, and he could have had an even bigger campaign if not for his nagging hamstring injuries in the middle of the season. He missed a game in Week Eight because of his hamstrings and was used as a decoy in Week Ten against the Seahawks, as he failed to register a catch. Brown finished the year with 65/1003/7 receiving on 97 targets (67% catch rate, 15.4 YPC) for 14.0 FPG (28th) in 15 games. He played on 80.8% of the snaps this year and he averaged an impressive 2.16 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). Brown was still primarily used as a deep threat because of his electric speed, but HC Bruce Arians did use him a little more diversely in his second season, getting the ball in the hands of his playmaker on some quick screens and slants. For being a big-play threat, Brown was surprisingly a pretty steady fantasy option throughout the season, even with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd also commanding targets. Brown posted 10+ FP in 11 games and had 8+ FP 14 times, and he had 3+ catches in every game outside of his goose egg in Week Ten. Brown, who will 26 years old in April, will remain a scary threat for Carson Palmer in this vertical passing attack next season, and he may have even more upside if he continues to develop his all-around game.
J.J. Nelson – HC Bruce Arians loves his smaller WRs that can absolutely fly, and Nelson fits the bill at 5’10”, 156 pounds with 4.28 40-speed. He spent the season buried behind Michael Floyd, John Brown, and Larry Fitzgerald, but Nelson did excel when given his chance for some playing time in the middle of the year when Brown was working through his hamstring issues. Nelson finished the year with 11/299/2 receiving on 25 targets (33.3% catch rate, 27.2 YPC) in 11 games, but all of his production came in four games from Weeks 8-13. He played on 19.8% of the snaps this year and averaged 2.12 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). Nelson has absolutely explosive speed and should be worked into the offense more next season, but he won’t have a huge role with the big three ahead of him. Still, he’ll be a must-add if there’s an injury in front of him, as he showed he can excel with a bigger role.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Will Floyd and Brown continue to ascend in this offense? Can Fitz keep his play at a relatively comparable level even with Floyd and Brown pushing for more targets? Will Nelson have a bigger role in his second season?
Darren Fells – Fells was the Cardinals’ primary TE in 2015. He played in 14 games, taking 70% of the offensive snaps in those games, and posted 21/311/3 receiving on 28 targets (75%, 14.8 YPR). He averaged 5.0 FPG, which ranked him 41st among TEs. Fells missed two games in the middle of the season with a shoulder sprain, but returned in the second half to once again lead the way among the TEs here (he sometimes played fewer snaps than Jermaine Gresham). Whatever the case, Fells lacked serious fantasy value. He had just two games all year of 10 or more FP, and the 4/82/1 line he posted in Week One marked his season-high in all three categories, giving him 18.2 FP. He was due for exclusive-rights free agency, but has already re-signed with the team, so he’ll be back in 2016.
Jermaine Gresham – #BIGGRESH signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals in late July, a late-add vet to the club along with Chris Johnson. Gresham played a lot, taking 57.6% of the Cardinals’ snaps in the games in which he was active (15 games), but he was used mostly as a blocker. In 15 games (missing one with a knee injury), he posted 18/223/1 receiving on 32 targets (56.3%, 12.4 YPR). He averaged 3.1 FPG to tie for 52nd at the position. Gresham is a free agent, and while he’ll be only 28 it June, it’s hard to ignore the fact that he didn’t find work until July this past off-season, though he was coming off back surgery. Gresham seems to have made it through the year healthy, but he wasn’t particularly impressive.
Troy Niklas – Niklas played in all 16 games this year for the Cardinals, but was their #3 TE. He played just 16.2% of the offensive snaps and posted 4/33/2 receiving on 4 targets. It was good to see him stay healthy all year despite having multiple ankle surgeries last off-season, but he didn’t exactly do much. He’ll be back in 2016, and Jermaine Gresham is a free agent, but it’s hard to get excited about a guy who has 7 catches in two seasons.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Will Gresham be back? Will the Cardinals get any fantasy production whatsoever out of the TE position?
Key Free Agents
LB Dwight Freeney, RB Chris Johnson, CB Jerraud Powers, QB Drew Stanton, LB Sean Weatherspoon, TE Jermaine Gresham, G Ted Larsen, C Lyle Sendlein, S Rashad Johnson, OT Bobby Massie, OT Brad Sowell, LB LaMarr Woodley, WR Jaron Brown (RFA), S Tony Jefferson (RFA), P Drew Butler (RFA), LB Kenny Demens (RFA), DE Red Bryant, S D.J. Swearinger (RFA), CB Corey White, S Chris Clemons, DE Jason Babin.
Seattle Seahawks (10-6; 2nd in NFC West)
Russell Wilson – Wilson was a top-5 QB in preseason based on ADP, and often was the #3 QB off the board behind Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers. Overall, Wilson came through on that draft status. In 16 starts (he’s never missed a game), he posted 329/483 passing (68.1%) for 4024 yards (8.33 YPA), with 34 TDs and only 8 INTs. Wilson added 103/554/1 rushing (5.3 YPC) to rank 5th among all QBs at 24.9 FPG. At 0.83 FP/PA, Wilson finished second among QBs, behind only Cam Newton. Wilson set career highs in basically every major passing category, including fewest INTs and lowest INT percentage (a miniscule 1.7%). This means Wilson was able to post a career-high in FPG despite losing 295 rushing yards and 5 rushing TDs from a season ago (59.5 FP lost). That’s a fantastic sign for his future, because if he’s going to be this good as a passer, he’s going to be difficult to stop. Also keep in mind he didn’t get off to a great start, putting up 20 or more FP in just three of his first eight starts (again, he wasn’t bad, just mediocre). However, after the Seahawks’ Week Nine bye, Wilson wouldn’t have a single game under 20 FP. Over this span, he averaged 29.8 FPG, #2 behind only Newton at the position. Then, Jimmy Graham got hurt in Week Twelve, and things absolutely took off for Wilson. Including Week Twelve, Wilson turned in three consecutive games of at least 35.0 FP, and in playoff weeks Fifteen and Sixteen, he turned in big performances of 29.1 FP and 26.4 FP, respectively. Ergo, Wilson carried plenty of teams to fantasy titles by throwing a ridiculous 24 TDs to just 1 INT over the last seven games of the season. Wilson threw at least 2 TDs in each of those seven games, after doing it just once in the first nine games of the year. Did the Graham injury actually have a positive effect on the Seahawks? Or did Wilson simply get that much better? It’s possible there’s a little of both, though there’s no reason a player with Graham’s talent should actually improve a team when he goes down. Wilson struggled in the playoffs, at least until the second half in Carolina, but it’s hard to hold that against him given his 2015 season as a whole, and the fact that he was coming off two NFC championships the previous two season. Wilson was incredible down the stretch in 2015, and the improvements as a passer are the most encouraging aspect of his fantasy value for 2016, since there’s a shot his rushing production actually improves.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Can Wilson carry his incredible 2015 second half into 2016? With Tarvaris Jackson an impending free agent, who will back up Wilson?
Marshawn Lynch – Was 2015 the last we saw of Lynch in the NFL? He probably would have liked to go out on a higher note, but sometimes, players just don’t let go until it’s obvious they should. Dealing with injuries all season long, Lynch played in just seven games, and posted 111/417/3 rushing (3.8 YPC) and 13/80/0 receiving on 21 targets (61.9%, 6.2 YPR). At 11.5 FPG, he tied for 28th among all RBs. He missed Weeks Four and Five with a hamstring injury, after totaling just 27.9 FP in the first three weeks of the season (though that includes when he played just 11 snaps in Week Three before getting injured). Lynch returned in Week Six, then put together a solid four-game stretch (four games between 10.2 FP and 18.2 FP), before going down in Week Ten with an abdomen injury that kept him out until his unspectacular showing in the second round of the playoffs. Lynch’s 122-yard outing against San Francisco in Week Seven was really the only time all year he looked like himself, and combined with Week One, one of only two times he topped 100 yards from scrimmage. Seahawk GM John Schneider went on ESPN Radio in Seattle after the season and told hosts that he feels Lynch is currently “leaning towards retirement,” and given the hits he’s taken and the mileage he’s accrued, it’s not surprising. If Lynch does return for his age 30 season, we really doubt it’ll be in Seattle if he doesn’t restructure his deal.
Thomas Rawls – An undrafted rookie out of Central Michigan, Rawls was far better than Marshawn Lynch was this season. In 13 games, Rawls bowled his way to 147/830/4 rushing (5.6 YPC) and 9/76/1 receiving on 11 targets. He averaged 10.0 FPG, which tied him for 42nd among RBs. But, of course, the full season average just does absolutely nothing to describe Rawls’ season. With Lynch out, Rawls started and played a full game in six contests. In those six games (Weeks Three through Five and Eleven through Thirteen), Rawls played at least 50% of the Seahawks’ snaps in all of them, and scored 20 or more FP in three of them. He fell below 10 FP just once. He had four games of 100 or more yards rushing, including two of 150 or more, and one of 209 yards (Week Eleven). Rawls was a violent downhill runner, and while he lacked the finesse of Lynch at his best, he didn’t need it to put up monster numbers. Unfortunately, Rawls went down with a broken ankle in Week Fourteen, ending his season, and perhaps ending the seasons of fantasy owners who were riding him to a title. Rawls’ emergence does reek of “small sample,” but he gave us plenty of reason to believe he can at least perform close to this level, and the Seahawks will be in good hands if Lynch does indeed retire.
Christine Michael – It was a whirlwind season for Michael. Traded to the Cowboys just prior to the season starting, Michael could barely get on the field. Through Week Ten, he had just 15 carries and 1 reception with Dallas, totaling just 25 snaps in five appearances. He was released in mid-November, signed to Washington’s practice squad, released from there in mid December, and then signed back in Seattle the very next day, after Thomas Rawls got injured. Back in Seattle, Michael got to establish himself in the lineup out of necessity, and he did a decent job. In three games, Michael posted 39/192/0 rushing and 2/14 receiving, while playing 34.9% of Seattle’s snaps. He also started and posted 21/70 rushing and 1/14 receiving in the Seahawks’ postseason opener, though the fact that he didn’t get a touch in the divisional round with Lynch back shows Seattle’s trust in him is minimal. Regardless, Michael finally ended up as the starter in Seattle, just in the most roundabout way possible. He turned in his first 100-yard rushing game in Week Seventeen, and there’s reason to believe that the club will want to bring the restricted free agent back behind Rawls, especially if Lynch retires/is released.
Fred Jackson – Fred played 16 games in 2015 on a one-year deal with Seattle. He posted 26/100 rushing (3.8 YPC) and 35/257/2 receiving on 41 targets (85.4%, 8.0 YPR). He averaged 5.0 FPG to tie him for 80th among all RBs. Jackson played just 259 snaps all year, 23.9% of the Seahawks’ offensive total. His impact for fantasy was absolutely minimal, as his 10.4 FP outing in Week Sixteen was his only game above 10 FP all year, and he never had more than 8 touches in a game. Jackson is remarkable, but he’s entering free agency and will be 35 at the end of this month. We’d be shocked if he gets a contract somewhere else.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Will Lynch hang ‘em up? If not, will he be cut? If Lynch isn’t back, do the Seahawks feel comfortable with Rawls as their top guy? Will Jackson also hang ‘em up? Will Michael (a restricted free agent) return?
Doug Baldwin – We can’t say that we saw Baldwin turning into Steve Smith in 2015, but nobody really saw it coming, not even Baldwin himself. In his fifth season and at 27 years old, Baldwin broke out in the second half of the season, becoming Russell Wilson’s top target and a bona fide WR1. From Week Ten on, he posted a ridiculous 47/724/12 receiving for 23.9 FPG in eight games, which put him behind only Antonio Brown in that span. His 10 TDs from Weeks 12-15 tied Jerry Rice (1987) for the most TD catches in a four-game span in a single season, and only Calvin Johnson and Cries Carter have ever scored 2+ TDs in four consecutive games. Baldwin’s ridiculous second half of the season carried many fantasy owners to championships in 2015. For the season, Baldwin posted 78/1069/14 on 101 targets for a ridiculous 77.2% catch rate, and he averaged 13.7 YPC and finished with 16.8 FPG (15th). He played on 74% of the snaps this year and led the league with an incredible 2.66 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). Baldwin shared the league lead in TDs (14) with Allen Robinson and Brandon Marshall. Baldwin was playing well just before Jimmy Graham’s season-ending injury in Week Twelve, but Wilson certainly relied even more on Baldwin after the injury. Graham isn’t guaranteed to be ready to start the season off his torn patellar injury and Jermaine Kearse could leave via free agency, so Baldwin will be heavily involved with Wilson again next season. Baldwin could look for an extension after his breakout season, as he has one-year left on his current contract. He’s certainly a prime candidate for some regression next season, but Baldwin should get enough opportunities to be a solid WR2.
Tyler Lockett – The Seahawks drafted Lockett in the 3rd round in 2015 primarily with designs on having him be specialist in the return game. Well, Lockett instantly filled that role, becoming the best returner in the league the moment he stepped onto the field in the preseason. He finished the year with 1231 combined kick and punt return yards and a TD in each facet. While the Seahawks drafted him primarily to be the team’s returner, they were pleasantly surprised with his receiving production, especially in the second half of the year after TE Jimmy Graham went down with a season-ending injury in Week Twelve. Lockett finished the year with 51/664/6 receiving on 66 targets for a remarkable 77.3% catch rate, and he also averaged 13.0 YPC and finished with 9.7 FPG (55th). He played only 61.4% of the snaps this year but averaged an incredible 2.35 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs), second in the league behind only his teammate Doug Baldwin. Lockett surged down the stretch from Week Eleven on, posting 30/404/5 for 14.6 FPG, ranking him 25th among WRs in that span. Locket is likely headed toward an even bigger role next season with Jermaine Kearse a candidate to leave during free agency. It also doesn’t hurt that Jimmy Graham’s availability to start the year is very much up the air. If you combine his second-half surge and a potential uptick in usage, Lockett will be a prime candidate to break out in his second season.
Jermaine Kearse – This Seahawk passing game has been sporadic at times ever since Russell Wilson arrived in Seattle, but Kearse truly had a bizarre season. He finished without a catch on three different occasions and he had a mid-season slump with 8 catches in a seven-week span from Weeks 4-10. He also played pretty well down the stretch, starting in Week Twelve when TE Jimmy Graham went down for the rest of the season, posting 24/303/4 receiving in his final six games. He also had another strong postseason for the second straight year, with 14 catches and 2 TDs in two games. Kearse finished the year with 49/685/5 on 67 targets (73.1% catch rate, 14.0 YPC) for 9.2 FPG (60th) in 16 games, which were career-best numbers across the board for fourth-year pro. He played on 71.5% of the snaps this year and averaged an impressive 2.20 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). Kearse has already said he won’t take a hometown discount in free agency, and the Seahawks won’t be inclined to break the bank with Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett already in the fold. It isn’t a great free-agency class at the position, and Kearse could be one of the more coveted WRs on the open market, so he could be an interesting spot like Golden Tate was two years ago.
Paul Richardson – The Seahawks drafted Richardson in the 2nd round in 2014, but he hasn’t really had the chance to show off his electric speed too often early in his career. He tore his ACL in the playoffs last season, which was the same knee he tore up in college at Colorado. Richardson struggled to get on the field this year, starting the season on the reserve/PUP list, before eventually being activated before Week Ten. However, his season ended in his first game back on his only catch of the year – a 40-yarder. He suffered a hamstring injury on the long catch and never could get healthy again, and his season ended when the team placed him on the IR in early December. Just what the Seahawks do with free-agent Jermaine Kearse could say a lot about what they think of Richardson’s ability to stay healthy going forward. If the Seahawks let Kearse walk this off-season, that move would show some confidence in Richardson to be able to play a major role next season. When Richardson is at full strength he’s vertically explosive and would seem like a good fit with Russell Wilson, but it’s fair to wonder if his injuries could start to sap his speed.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Can Baldwin keep his momentum going off a historic second half of 2015? Can Lockett break out next season after a strong finish and with the chance for a bigger role? Will Kearse stick around or bolt as one of the more coveted WRs in weak free-agent class at the position? Will Richardson ever get healthy enough to contribute as a deep threat for this passing game?
Jimmy Graham – Clearly, things did not go as planned for Graham in his first year with the Seahawks, for many reasons. Obviously, primary among those was that it ended after just 11 games with a torn patellar tendon in his right knee, an absolutely devastating injury for any athlete to return from, especially suffered so late in the season. But even before the torn tendon in the knee, Graham’s impact on the Seahawks just wasn’t what we anticipated. In 11 games, Graham posted 48/605/2 receiving on 72 targets (66.7%, 12.6 YPR). He averaged just 11.0 FPG, which ranked him 12th among TEs. Graham hasn’t been under 14.6 FPG since his rookie season in 2010, and as a full-time player, had never finished below #2 at the position in FPG average. In his 11 games, Graham had just five outings of 10 or more FP, including in his final game against Pittsburgh, in which he got injured. Graham scored just twice, none after Week Three, and had just one game of 100 yards or more, and was targeted 10 or more times just twice. While Graham played 78.5% of the Seahawks’ snaps in games in which he was active, his snap shares were still not full, odd considering how much Seattle gave up for him. It just seemed like the Seahawks traded for Graham and simply plugged him into their offense. They didn’t really design for him, but rather just put him into Luke Willson’s spot and counted on his physical ability to get open. The question then becomes if trying to force Graham the ball held the Seahawks’ offense back, or if it’s merely a coincidence that the passing game seemed to take off when he went down. Keep in mind that with Graham healthy, the Seahawks struggled to run it with Marshawn Lynch, which could have had a negative impact on the offense as a whole. Graham’s massive cap number could completely disappear if the Seahawks just release him, but they don’t appear to be ready to do that, at least if GM John Schneider’s comments on ESPN 710 mean anything. Graham is coming off perhaps the nastiest injury possible (remember, Victor Cruz ended up having calf problems in 2015, and never played), and he turns 30 next November. It wouldn’t be shocking if he never approaches his peak again.
Luke Willson – Willson was demoted as the Seahawks’ top TE with the acquisition of Jimmy Graham, though he never really had much fantasy value anyway. Playing in 14 games in 2015 (he missed Week Seventeen with a concussion and Week Three with a back injury), Willson posted 17/213/1 receiving on 26 targets (65.4%, 12.5 YPR). His only game of 10 or more FP came in Week Eight, when he posted 2/41/1 receiving against Dallas. After Graham went down in Week Twelve, Wilson played above 74% of the Seahawks’ snaps in each of the next three games, before suffering his concussion in Week Sixteen. Still, Willson had no more than 2 catches in any game in 2015, even with Graham out, until the playoffs (he had 4/57 in the divisional round). If Graham isn’t ready to start 2016, Willson will likely be the top guy, but it is unlikely to mean anything for fantasy.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: When will Graham be healthy? If he’s ready to go, does he have any shot at being an elite fantasy option? Will RFA Cooper Helfet be back?
Key Free Agents
LT Russell Okung, WR Jermaine Kearse, DT Brandon Mebane, OLB Bruce Irvin, DT Ahtyba Rubin, RB Christine Michael, RB Fred Jackson, RB Bryce Brown, OG J.R. Sweezy, QB Tarvaris Jackson, P Jon Ryan, LB Michael Morgan, CB Jeremy Lane, FB Will Tukuafu, TE Cooper Helfet (RFA), DE Demarcus Dobbs, WR Ricardo Lockette, S DeShawn Shead (ERFA), G Alvin Bailey (RFA), C Patrick Lewis (RFA), FB Derrick Coleman (RFA), CB Marcus Burley (ERFA), C Lemuel Jeanpierre, TE Anthony McCoy, TE Chase Coffman.
Los Angeles Rams (7-9; 3rd in NFC West)
Nick Foles – Yeesh. At least the Rams got a second-round pick out of the deal, because trading Sam Bradford for Foles didn’t work out in any way otherwise. Foles made 11 starts in 2015, and he was brutal. He went 190/337 passing (56.4%) for 2052 yards (6.09 YPA), with 7 TDs and 10 INTs. He added 17/20/1 rushing to average 12.6 FPG, which ranked him 39th among QBs who made multiple starts. Foles threw for fewer than 200 yards in eight of his 11 starts, threw multiple TD passes just once (3, in Week Four), and accounted for precisely 1 TD and 5 INTs over his final six starts. Foles completed under 50% of his passes three times, and put up single-digit fantasy points in three of his 11 outings. He was benched prior to Week Eleven, but reemerged as the Rams’ starter in Weeks Twelve and Thirteen with Case Keenum nursing a concussion. But Foles was predictably awful in those games as well, with Keenum returning to start the final four games of the season. A slow, inaccurate passer who cannot function with pressure in his face, Foles missed a ton of throws, and simply cannot be the starting QB on a team with a bad offensive line that lacks talent at the WR position. Foles is guaranteed just under $8 million in 2016, so he’s almost certain to be with the team in Los Angeles, but the Rams will have a hard time selling him to the LA fans as their starting QB.
Case Keenum – Keenum made five starts for the Rams in 2015, taking his first in Week Eleven for a benched Nick Foles. Somehow, while Keenum was slightly better than Foles by NFL terms, he was actually worse than Foles for fantasy. In five starts (missing Weeks Twelve and Thirteen with a concussion), Keenum posted 76/125 passing (60.8%) for 828 yards (6.62 YPA), with 4 TDs and 1 INT. He averaged only 11.6 FPG, which tied him for 42nd among QBs who made multiple starts. Keenum threw for more than 200 yards twice, but under 150 yards three times. His 19.4-FP outing against Tampa in Week Fifteen was the only game he played that was anywhere close to useful for fantasy, but it still ranked him just 22nd among all QBs for the week. Keenum’s a restricted free agent, and though he’s no better than a backup, GM Les Snead told the Los Angeles Times the Rams want him back. Ideally, neither he nor Foles will be the starter next year.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: With Foles under contract and Keenum expected to be back in 2016, who will start for the Rams at QB? Will they draft or sign someone, or are they happy about Sean Mannion as the #3?
Todd Gurley – It’s both a comment on how awesome Gurley is and how bad the RB position was in general in 2015 that he managed to finish 3rd in the NFL in rushing yardage despite missing the first two games of his career, and most of the third, and Week Seventeen. With the Rams taking a long-term plan to Gurley’s ACL recovery (from his final season at Georgia), He sat out the first two weeks and played just 14 snaps in Week Three. Then, he was unleashed. In 13 games, Gurley posted 229/1108/10 rushing (4.8 YPC), with 21/188/0 rushing on 26 targets (80.8%, 9.0 YPR). He averaged 16.2 FPG to rank 9th among all RBs. Gurley ran for at least 128 yards five times, including in his first four full games in the NFL (Weeks Four through Eight). He also had 10 games of at least 12.6 FP, topping out with three games of at least 23.6 FP (his best was 32.3 FP against Cleveland in Week Seven). Gurley hit a big lull in Weeks Twelve and Thirteen, combining for 8.1 FP as the Rams’ terrible offensive line couldn’t keep defenses at bay, as Ds didn’t have to respect the awful passing game. Plus, he touched the ball on 55% of his snaps, so defenses knew he was getting the ball. He rebounded to score 4 TDs over his final three games, before sitting out Week Seventeen with turf toe (the injury wasn’t serious, because he played in the Pro Bowl, scoring a TD). While Gurley’s season slowed down after a red-hot start, it really wasn’t his fault. He still had 20 or more touches in eight games, played 60.8% of the Rams’ snaps in every game after Week Three, and showed why he was a top-10 pick despite coming off a serious injury. Among RBs with 200 or more touches, none averaged more fantasy points per snap than did Gurley (0.46). As the Rams move back to Los Angeles, Gurley is the star they’ll build around, and if the Rams even slightly improve along the line and/or at QB, he should provide adequate return on a first-round fantasy pick.
Benny Cunningham – Cunningham has way more value to the Rams in actuality than he does for fantasy. Playing in 16 games, Benny posted 37/140/0 rushing (3.8 YPC) with 26/250/0 receiving on 36 targets (72.2%, 9.6 YPR) to average 4.1 FPG, tying him for 91st among all RBs. Cunningham turned in two games of 10 or more FP, in Week One (16.2 FP) and in Week Seventeen (10.2 FPG), with Todd Gurley inactive both times (Tre Mason was also inactive in Week One). In between, Cunningham had no more than six touches in a game, and three times went without a single touch. He contributed 714 kickoff return yards, and played 29.4% of the Rams’ offensive snaps, but he was more a passing-down/protection guy than anything else. He’s a restricted free agent and should be back since he’s a coaching-staff favorite, but he’s no threat to Gurley.
Tre Mason – No player in fantasy had his dynasty valued torpedoed more by a draft pick than Mason did when Todd Gurley was selected 10th overall last April. For most of 2015, Mason was useless. He played in 13 games, posting 75/207/1 rushing (2.8 YPC) with 18/88/0 receiving on 21 targets (85.7%, 4.8 YPR). He averaged 4.1 FPG, tying him with Benny Cunningham for 91st among all RBs. Mason missed Week One with a hamstring injury, Week Seven with an ankle injury, and then was a healthy scratch in Week Eleven following a lost fumble in Week Ten. In all, Mason fumbled three times on just 93 touches, losing one, and his only double-digit FP outing came in Week Seventeen, when he started for an injured Gurley. He played fewer than 10 snaps in six of his 13 games, and really didn’t earn any more than that, given he averaged under 3.0 YPC in seven of his 13 games. We loved Mason after 2014, but he may need a change of scenery to come anywhere close to his potential, since Gurley is around.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Just how high will Gurley be drafted in 2016? Can Mason get on the field? Will RFA Cunningham be back?
Tavon Austin – The Rams finally got Austin the ball in some creative ways in 2015 after essentially wasting the former 2013 #8 overall pick in his first two seasons. He had his best season as a receiver and he was more effectively used as a gadget player with carries off of RB Todd Gurley. He finished the year with 52/473/5 receiving on 86 targets (60.5% catch rate, 9.1 YPC) and added 52/434/4 rushing for 12.3 FPG (34th). He played on 77.3% of the snaps this year and averaged a healthy 2.29 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs), the fourth best average thanks in large part to his carries. He saw 3+ carries in 11 games and he averaged 8.3 yards per carry. Austin’s use as a runner saved his fantasy value in this absolutely dreadful passing game led by Nick Foles and Case Keenum. In fact, Julio Jones and Antonio Brown each had more receiving yards than the entire Ram receiving corps, as the group totaled just 137/1635/8 compared to Jones (136/1871/8) and Brown (136/1834/10). Austin is still a satellite player and doesn’t have a real designed role as a slot receiver/running back hybrid, which makes him a bit of a shaky proposition heading into 2016, especially with this shaky QB situation.
Kenny Britt – Britt once again flashed some in his second season with the Rams, but he was ultimately let down by this putrid passing attack and awful quarterback play. He finished the year with 36/681/3 receiving on 71 targets (50.7% catch rate, 18.9 YPC) for 7.6 FPG (74th), as he actually led the Ram in receiving with those shaky numbers. He played on 67.7% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.72 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). He had a four-game stretch from Weeks 4-8 when he had just 1 catch and in Weeks 4-10 he had just one game with 2+ catches. However, Britt came on late in the season and was more consistent and dangerous with Case Keenum late in the year than with Nick Foles early. Half of his production (18/340/2) essentially came in the final six games of the year from Week Twelve on. Britt will likely be their top weapon on the outside once again next season, but he needs more help from his QBs to become a more consistent fantasy option.
Brian Quick – Quick was headed toward a breakout season early in 2014 before a shoulder injury that needed surgery ended his season, and his subsequent glacial recovery got him off to a slow start in 2015. He saw limited work in the preseason and was inactive for the first three games of the year before he started to see limited snaps. He finished the year with 10/102/0 receiving on 32 targets (31.3% catch rate, 10.2 YPC) for 1.6 FPG in 13 games. He played on just 44% of the snaps this year and averaged a miserable .63 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). Of course, the Rams had the worst QB play of any team in the league, which squashed Quick’s limited chances to show any of his talent this season. Quick, who will turn 27 in May, should have an interesting market this off-season because he is loaded with talent as a big target (6’3”, 218 pounds) on the outside but has yet to really accomplish much in four years – outside of his promising stretch to start the 2014 season. He could look to sign a one-year deal in a better offense to try to establish more value in free agency in 2017.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Will the Rams continue to use Austin creatively in this offense like they did for the first time in 2015? Can Britt become a more consistent downfield threat with better QB play? What kind of market will be out there for the intriguing Quick?
Jared Cook – Cook’s talent has always outweighed his production. Never was that more true than in 2015, when he played in 16 games but posted just 39/481/0 on 74 targets (52.7%, 12.3 YPR). Cook averaged 5.4 FPG, tying him for 35th among all TEs. Now, far be it from us to blame all the Rams’ passing-game woes on Cook, because their quarterbacks and offensive line were awful. But Cook managed just two games of 10 or more FP (one of them in Week One) despite playing 70.2% of the Rams’ offensive snaps on the year, and in 48 games with the Rams, he has just 10 of them total. In 2015 in particular, Cook had nine games of 2 or fewer catches, simply not close to enough for what the Rams are paying him. Cook’s owed $8.3 million in 2016, and the Rams could save close to $6 million if they cut him. That seems extremely likely.
Lance Kendricks – Kendricks got a new contract last off-season, and given the likelihood that Jared Cook is getting cut this off-season, Kendricks could open the 2016 season as the Rams’ #1 TE. In 15 games in 2015, he wasn’t fantasy relevant, posting 25/245/2 receiving on 40 targets (62.5%, 9.8 YPR). He averaged 4.1 FPG to tie him for 46th among all TEs. Kendricks has been merely a TD vulture for his entire career, with only 2 games in his five seasons with 10 FP or more without scoring a TD. He had 2 10-FP outings in 2015, but both came with a TD. In his 15 games (missing one in October after minor thumb surgery), Kendricks played 62.8% of the Rams’ snaps, but had more than 3 catches only once – 5/37 in Week Seventeen. He’s far more likely to be with the Rams in Los Angeles than is Cook, but he’s now had five years with zero consistent fantasy value.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Will Cook be cut? If so, will the Rams look to upgrade the position, or are they fine with Kendricks as their starter?
Key Free Agents
DT Nick Fairley, CB Janoris Jenkins, K Greg Zuerlein, QB Case Keenum (RFA), WR Brian Quick, S/LB Mark Barron, DE William Hayes, DE Eugene Sims, S Rodney McLeod (RFA), CB Trumaine Johnson, RB Benny Cunningham (RFA), FB/TE Cory Harkey (RFA), C Tim Barnes, RB Chase Reynolds (RFA), WR Wes Welker.
San Francisco 49ers (5-11; 4th in NFC West)
Colin Kaepernick – 2015 was a season Kaepernick would like to forget. Kaepernick made eight starts prior to getting benched before Week Nine. In those eight starts, Kaepernick posted 144/243 passing (59.3%) for 1615 yards (6.65 YPA), with 6 TDs and 5 INTs. He added 45/256/1 rushing (5.7 YPC) to average 17.1 FPG, 32nd in the NFL among QBs who made multiple starts over that eight-week span. Kaepernick threw for 200 or more yards just three times in eight starts and threw for under 150 twice, including one game of just 67 yards passing against Arizona in Week Three. He threw 6 TDs, but in only three different games, with 2 TDs in each. Five times he posted under 15.0 FP, and though he had three games of at least 23.0 FP, he was simply not trustworthy enough to put into a fantasy lineup. He was benched for Blaine Gabbert prior to Week Nine, but he likely wouldn’t have lasted much longer anyway – Kaepernick had a torn labrum in his left shoulder that required surgery and months of recovery, and he also battled through an injury to the thumb on his throwing hand. No doubt, Kaepernick was awful in 2015, worse than he was in 2014. But is there a better coach on the planet to give him a new lease on life than Chip Kelly? Without Kelly, Kap may not even be with the team. If he wins the starting job under him, however? We may legitimately be talking about a fantasy sleeper, given Kelly has not had a QB who can run like this since his Oregon days.
Blaine Gabbert – It’s been a roundabout path for Gabbert, but the first-round QB bust turned in the best season of his career in 2015, and likely earned himself some years of rope (and paychecks) in the league, at least as a backup. Gabbert made eight starts for the 49ers, after taking over for a benched/injured Colin Kaepernick prior to Week Nine. Over those eight starts, Gabbert posted 178/282 passing (63.1%) for 2031 yards (7.20 YPA) with 10 TDs and 7 INTs. He added 32/185/1 rushing (5.8 YPC) to average 20.8 FPG, which ranked him 19th among all QBs over the second half of the season. So not only did Gabbert put some positive tape out there, but he also was a decent enough fantasy asset. Gabbert put up 20 FP or more in four of eight starts, compared to three for Kap. He also had zero games of 15.0 FP or fewer, compared to five for Kap. He had five games of 200 or more passing yards, compared to three for Kap. By every measure, Gabbert outplayed Kaepernick, turning in his most controlled performance of his disappointing NFL career thus far. Gabbert is under contract for 2016, and new coach Chip Kelly seems willing to see what Gabbert can do before anointing a starter here. Remember, Gabbert showed positive mobility, so it’s not like Kaepernick is the only guy who can operate the zone read in Kelly’s offense.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: With Chip Kelly onboard, is Kaepernick’s career about to undergo a revitalization, or is Gabbert going to offer legitimate competition for his job?
Carlos Hyde – In Week One, it looked like we totally underestimated Hyde. He torched a good Viking defense for 26/168/2 rushing and 2/14 receiving, totaling 32.2 FP while looking like a balanced, explosive back. The rest of the season, it looked like we overestimated him. In all, Hyde played in just seven games before a foot injury ended his 2015 season before November even started. Hyde posted 115/470/3 rushing (4.1 YPC) and 11/53/0 receiving on 15 targets. He averaged 11.6 FPG, which ranked him 27th among all RBs. But he totaled 81.3 FP on the year, of which 39.6% came in Week One alone. Behind a bad offensive line, Hyde struggled to find room to run, averaging under 4.0 YPC in five of his seven games. Hyde posted 8.0 FP or fewer in four of the seven games, despite playing nearly 70% of San Francisco’s snaps when active. The great news for Hyde dynasty owners is that he was clearly San Francisco’s best back this year, and was also clearly the Niners’ bell cow when he was active. The bad news is the team around him has got to improve significantly for him to put up big numbers. Can the new coaching staff under Chip Kelly get the best out of this run game, the way Kelly did when he took over in Philly in 2013?
Reggie Bush – Poor Reggie. Injuries have always put a cap on what’s been a pretty good career for Bush, preventing it from potentially being great. Because of them, he had only 13 touches in his only year with the Niners. Bush was carted off early in Week One with a calf injury, missed two games, left in Week Five with the same injury, missed Week Six, played in full in Week Seven, and then suffered one of the flukiest injuries of the year in Week Eight. Bush slipped on a concrete track out of bounds in St. Louis while returning a punt. He tore his meniscus and ended up on IR, ending his season with 8/28 rushing and 4/19 receiving in five games. He totaled 48 offensive snaps in five games. In theory, he’d be a great fit in Chip Kelly’s offense, but he’s entering free agency and turns 31 in March. He also hasn’t played a full season since 2012.
Shaun Draughn – Draughn was a savior for fantasy, at least for a while. He didn’t even sign with the Niners (from the Browns) until November, after Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush were lost for the year. Draughn appeared in six games with the Niners, starting in Week Nine. He posted 76/263/1 rushing (3.5 YPC) and 25/175/0 receiving on 32 targets (78.1%, 7.0 YPR) over that span, averaging 12.5 FPG, tying him for 21st among all RBs. Draughn’s best run came from Weeks Nine through Thirteen, a four-game stretch over which he posted between 13.6 FP and 19.6 FP, putting up rock-solid RB2 numbers. As the Niners’ de facto starting RB, he played at least 66.7% of the snaps in five consecutive games, including a rare 100% outing in Week Twelve. Unfortunately, Draughn’s run came to an end in Week Fifteen, when he landed on IR with a knee injury. Nonetheless, Draughn showed great effort on tape. While he’s still more of a grinder than anything else, he was a little quicker than we remembered, and given his receiving aptitude, he’s a nice backup RB to have around. Draughn is a restricted free agent, but he seems like a Chip Kelly kind of guy.
Mike Davis – A rookie out of South Carolina, Davis played in just six games and had extremely unimpressive numbers. He posted 35/58 rushing (1.7 YPC), with 7/38 receiving on 13 targets, while playing in six games. Davis was in and out of the lineup in the first two months of the season, then was placed on IR-DFR on November 7 (after Week Eight) with a hand injury and missed every game up until Week Seventeen, when he at least had his best game of the season with 10/34 rushing and 2/15 receiving. It’s a very, very modest bar for his “best game,” but at least it’s something as Davis tries to impress Chip Kelly’s staff. If he’s back in 2016 (no guarantees, since he was a fourth-round pick), Davis will essentially be a rookie again.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Can Chip Kelly work wonders for Hyde and this running game? Will Kelly be interesting in re-signing Bush and/or Draughn? Will Davis make the team?
Anquan Boldin – Boldin just won’t go away as he continues to find ways to be fantasy relevant each season despite his diminishing skills. He’s never been a prolific athlete, but he’s struggling to get separation from defenders more than ever in his 13th season. Still, he was the only reliable WR in a terrible QB situation with Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert, so he saw plenty of work most weeks. He finished the year with 69/789/4 receiving on 109 targets (63.3% catch rate, 11.4 YPC) for 12.3 FPG (33rd) in 14 games, missing two games because of a hamstring injury. He played 86.4% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.58 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). For being thought of as a safe option for PPR formats, he was completely hit or miss this season, with seven games under 9 FP and 14+ FP in his other seven games. New HC Chip Kelly does love big, physical WRs to work out of the slot like he did with Jordan Matthews (6’3”, 212 pounds) the last two years, and Boldin would seem to be an ideal fit for Kelly’s offense. Still, Boldin will turn 36 years old next season and is a free agent, and Kelly could look to get younger at the position instead of using just a one-year stopgap in Boldin. It’s unknown if the 49ers want to bring back Boldin back, and he might look to land in a place where he can contend for another championship before the end of his career. He has chance to be a WR3 in Kelly’s offense and is more likely to be a fantasy bench piece in another location.
Torrey Smith – Has anyone seen or heard from Torrey Smith? His last known whereabouts were in Baltimore in 2014. The first season of Smith’s five-year, $40 million deal went about as poorly as it possibly could’ve gone. Big-armed Colin Kaepernick looked like a complete disaster early in the year before getting benched for checkdown artist Blaine Gabbert, so Smith didn’t really have much of a chance for success. He finished the year with 33/663/4 receiving on 60 targets (55% catch rate, 20.1 YPC) for 7.7 FPG (72nd). He did play on 76.4% of the snaps this year and averaged 2.06 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). He topped 100+ yards receiving just one time and had 10+ FP a miserable five times. Smith still hasn’t developed his game at all and is just a vertical threat, which makes him a totally unreliable fantasy asset. He’ll need new HC Chip Kelly to breathe some life into Kaepernick this off-season for Smith to have any chance to become fantasy relevant again next season in non-PPR formats.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: Boldin fits into the mold of Chip Kelly’s ideal slot WR but does he want to start over at the position? Can Torrey rebound from his disastrous first season with the 49ers?
Vance McDonald – The Niners traded Vernon Davis following Week Eight, opening the door for McDonald to get more reps. From that point on, McDonald was actually generally useful for fantasy. In seven games post-Davis, missing one with a concussion, McDonald posted 23/281/3 receiving on 34 targets (67.6%, 12.2 YPR). He averaged 9.9 FPG to rank 15th among TEs from Weeks Nine through Seventeen, though almost all of his damage came in his three games with the TDs (he had at least 65 yards in all three games). And prior to Davis’ trade, McDonald was a non-factor, with just 7 catches for 45 yards in seven games (McDonald also missed a game early in the season with a knee injury). Without Davis, McDonald played more than 80% of the Niners’ snaps in three of seven games, so his playing time increased significantly after the trade. A solid athlete, McDonald should have the inside track to a job with Chip Kelly’s Niners, since Kelly likes 2-TE sets, so watch his progress this off-season.
Blake Bell – “The Belldozer,” a former college QB, was a rookie fourth-round pick who posted 15/186/0 receiving on 25 targets in his first year with the Niners, while appearing in 14 games. He missed a couple of games early in the year with a back injury, but his playing time didn’t really start to get to significant levels until Vernon Davis was traded prior to Week Nine, and Garrett Celek went down for the year in early December with a high ankle sprain. Bell showed intriguing future value as both a blocker and receiver, and it should get him a pretty long look from Chip Kelly’s staff as we head into 2016, though it’s still far too early to project serious fantasy value for him.
Fantasy questions to answer in 2016: With Garrett Celek a free agent, will the Niners add a tight end this off-season? Will McDonald and Bell be the top two TEs when coach Chip Kelly goes to his oft-used 2-TE sets?
Key Free Agents
WR Anquan Boldin, K Phil Dawson, RB Reggie Bush, OG Alex Boone, TE Garrett Celek, DT Ian Williams, RB Shaun Draughn (RFA), LB Michael Wilhoite (RFA), DE Tony Jerod-Eddie (RFA), RB Kendall Gaskins (ERFA), LB Ray-Ray Armstrong (RFA).
Source: Fantasy Guru
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