Originally posted: May 1, 2017
Jameis Winston (TB) – The Buccaneers are putting what looks to be a playoff-caliber roster together, and they’re surrounding their young QB with multiple weapons. After signing DeSean Jackson in the off-season, Tampa added Alabama TE O.J. Howard in the first round of the NFL Draft, providing Winston with one of the best one-two punches at the position in the entire league, including Cameron Brate as well. The Buccaneers could well be a base “12” personnel team in 2017 – one RB, two WRs, two TEs. It may siphon potential production from both Howard and Brate, but it gives Winston speed on the perimeter and size inside the hash marks. But when the Bucs go with three WRs, they can add rookie Chris Godwin to the mix – Godwin was a steal in the third round who has phenomenal ball skills. Even later, in the fifth round, the Bucs drafted a pass-catching RB in Jeremy McNichols. Winston will always throw picks because he takes risks, but he is well positioned for fantasy success.
Marcus Mariota (Ten) – The Jared Goff trade is the gift that keeps on giving for the Titans. Having acquired the fifth overall pick from the Rams, the Titans used the selection to impact Mariota’s supporting cast. Though there are some concerns about his recent injuries and inability to work out at the NFL Combine, we still ranked Corey Davis as our #1 overall rookie WR in the pre-draft process. A versatile player who can play X, Y, or Z, Davis is instantly Mariota’s most gifted passing option in a receiving corps that had a surplus of possession options but not a whole lot else. Then, on Day 2, the Titans supplemented Mariota’s weaponry even more with Western Kentucky WR Taywan Taylor and Florida International TE Jonnu Smith. Mariota is recovering from a serious injury himself, but there’s no indication his broken leg will sideline him into training camp. Mariota is once again looking like a phenomenal fantasy option, though his ADP should be on the rise.
Philip Rivers (LAC) – No team had worse injury luck than the Chargers last year, and it took a pretty damn talented roster and pushed it into the top 10 of the NFL Draft. That’s where the Chargers surprised the huge crowd in Philadelphia by selected Clemson WR Mike Williams at #7 overall, giving Rivers an added perimeter weapon and eschewing the defensive side of the ball, which is what everyone expected the Chargers to address. But consider that Rivers’ top two WRs – Keenan Allen and Tyrell Williams – have injury concerns, and one of his two TEs, Antonio Gates, is at the end of his career. The Chargers saw no player worth taking at #7 overall to address their offensive line issue, but then took Western Kentucky lineman Forrest Lamp in the second round after he somewhat surprisingly fell out of the first round. The Chargers are putting their Hall-of-Fame QB in a better position to succeed. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Eli Manning (NYG) – There’s no doubt the Giants have put Eli in a position to succeed this off-season, adding Brandon Marshall in free agency and drafting TE Evan Engram in the first round of the NFL Draft. While we still have questions about Engram’s possible fit (he was essentially a big slot receiver at Ole Miss), there’s no doubt he’s a gifted player in the mold of Jordan Reed. While the Giants still need their offensive line to be upgraded, there are certainly no more excuses for Eli, who has one of the most loaded receiving corps in the NFL. He looked done last year, but the Giants are trying to squeeze another good year or two out of him (they took Cal’s Davis Webb in the third round as a developmental QB). His ADP will be fascinating to watch.
Tyrod Taylor (Buf) – Tyrod isn’t a massive upgrade, but through two days of the NFL Draft, the Bills didn’t select a QB, and added a solid possession option to the fold in East Carolina WR Zay Jones. There was a strange report over the weekend that the Bills are leaning against picking up WR Sammy Watkins’ fifth-year option, which doesn’t make too much sense to us even as he recovers from foot surgery, but at the least that shouldn’t affect Tyrod this year. The Bills will still be a run-first team, but Tyrod’s arsenal got an upgrade. Buffalo did add Pitt QB Nate Peterman in the fifth round, but Peterman’s draft “slide” may indicate that most teams view him as a backup given his limited arm strength.
Cam Newton (Car) – Speed has been the name of the game for the Panthers in the draft thus far. After adding the draft’s most dynamic RB in Christian McCaffrey, they replaced Ted Ginn with one of the draft’s fastest players, in Ohio State RB/WR Curtis Samuel. The Panthers already have one of the NFL’s most scheme-diverse run games, and with McCaffrey and Samuel, they become even more dangerous. Best of all, they can prevent themselves from putting too much on Cam’s plate. The Panthers became a better team on offense, for sure.
Brian Hoyer (SF) – The 49ers had one of the weakest overall rosters heading into the draft, but their stunning trade down with the Bears helped them to bring in some much extra bodies through the draft. One spot they didn’t really upgrade was at QB, which is great news for Hoyer to have some fantasy relevance this year. The 49ers did trade up to draft C.J. Beathard in the third round, but we’re not big fans of the Iowa QB, who is a developmental QB at best. HC Kyle Shanahan said after the draft that Hoyer is “our starting quarterback,” and as long as he isn’t a disaster, he should hold down the gig for the entire season. Hoyer actually played pretty well as the starter, throwing for 6 TDs without an INT and going for more 300+ yards in all four of his starts in Weeks 3-6. He averaged 22.9 FPG in that stretch (10th at the position) and was a viable streamer of the waiver wire. Hoyer had some success with Shanahan back in Cleveland in 2014, when Hoyer went 7-6 as a starter and threw for 7.6 YPA. Hoyer is setting up to be a viable backup fantasy QB, with the chance to be a streaming option in some favorable matchups.
Melvin Gordon (LAC) – There was some talk of the team being interested in drafting Danny Woodhead-type, but the team didn’t use any of its seven draft picks on a back. The team does have Branden Oliver on the roster, and he can pick up some of the receiving work potentially, but a healthy Gordon should be set with high-volume touches again in 2018. A big key to his surprising fantasy output last year was Woodhead’s departure from the lineup, and Gordon now has a chance to own a similar role this year. Additionally, the team spent two early picks on top guards in the draft. That should solidify Gordon as a locked-in top-16 pick.
DeAndre Hopkins (Hou) – The Texans front office went all-in at QB for the second straight off-season. Hopefully this time it works out much better for
Hopkins and company. The Texans got the most complete rookie QB in the draft in Deshaun Watson, who will likely be the starter from Week 1 – even though Bill O’Brien said after the draft that Tom Savage was “our starter.” Watson doesn’t have the biggest arm and his accuracy can be sporadic at times, but he’s a huge upgrade compared to the slop that Hopkins had to play with in Brock Osweiler last season. Watson also wasn’t shy about feeding the ball to Mike Williams in college, and he’ll do the same with Hopkins in 2017. Watson is the most pro-ready QB this season, and he should give Hopkins a great chance at a bounce-back campaign.
Breshad Perriman (Bal) – Casual fantasy players probably don’t know how talented this guy is because, due to his rawness coming out of UCF in 2015 and his lost rookie season, he was merely a role player in 2016 (involved in only 6% of their plays). But with very good size and blazing speed – he ran two sub-4.3 40-yard dashes at his pro day – Perriman is not a prospect to give up on. In fact, with the Ravens surprisingly not adding a wideout in free agency or the draft, Perriman looks like a value to target. He may need another full season before he’s ready to show us the best he has to offer, but he’s now been a pro for two years and did get some valuable reps last year (42% of the snaps), so everything is in place for him to take a big step forward. His QB has the big arm to take advantage of his vertical speed, which he did at times last year (15 yards a catch), and the Ravens really need to get meaningful contributions from him.
Austin Hooper (Atl) – The Falcons have moved on from veteran Jacob Tamme, who was not re-signed this off-season, and while they did re-sign Levine Toilolo, he’s primarily a run blocker and has shown few signs of any upside as a receiver. Atlanta didn’t nab on of the top TEs in a deep class, and while they did use a 5th round pick on Drake’s Eric Saubert, he’s a raw prospect coming from a spread offense. This means Hooper is officially a fantasy sleeper in year two on the Falcons, who targeted the TE a combined 83 times and posted a healthy 58/788/10 receiving line. Hooper won’t swallow up 100% of Atlanta’s TE production, but Falcon tight ends put up a combined 196.8 PPR points in 2016. At that scoring rate, 196.8 PPR points would have bested Jimmy Graham for the cumulative TE4 slot on the year. Hooper wasn’t expected to be a huge factor as a rookie 3rd round pick last year, but he showed that he moves well and he definitely flashed. Hooper put up 6/65/1 on nine targets in Atlanta’s postseason run and posted 3/46/1, 5/41, and 3/32/1 in the three contests in which he saw five or more targets. He probably won’t be graded as a top-12 TE by the masses this year, but he’s a great upside-oriented TE2 and/or a strong value in 14-team or larger leagues.
None of note.
Atlanta Falcons – In the words of first-round pick Takk McKinley, “GET TO THE DAMN QUARTERBACK!” That’s the plan for the Falcon, who added OLB McKinley to play opposite of NFL sack leader Vic Beasley, who notched 15.5 sacks last year. McKinley is another explosive edge pass rusher, who racked up 17 sacks and 5 forced fumbles in his last two years at UCLA. The Falcons added more speed to their linebacking corps by drafting ILB Duke Riley in the third round, who should eventually play next to Deion Jones. We think that the Falcons could be a sleeper fantasy defense next season after ranking 15th in FPG (7.3) in our site scoring system, even without top CB Desmond Trufant for half the season.
NFL Draft news has made us less optimistic about these particular players for fantasy purposes.
Mike Glennon (Chi) – We’re absolutely certain the Bears will be calling Glennon their starting QB up through the summer. Hell, Glennon might actually be their starting QB when the season opens in September. But the Bears traded multiple high draft picks to move up just one spot, likely bidding against themselves with the 49ers, to draft North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky. We have concerns about Trubisky, but the Bears clearly loved the guy and we’d be shocked if he doesn’t start at least some games this year. Meanwhile, Glennon was an already lower-end fantasy option who is likely out of Chicago after this season, and his already-low ADP is likely to take a big hit.
Tom Savage (Hou) – The Texans have traded a bunch of picks simply to get rid of Brock Osweiler, and then to trade up for our pre-draft #1 QB, Deshaun Watson. For our money, Savage’s time as the Texans’ de facto starting QB is over, even though head coach Bill O’Brien told reporters last night he still considers Savage his guy. Watson is the most pro-ready QB in this class, and the Texans are a pretty damn good situation for him, so we’d be stunned if Watson doesn’t play most – if not all – of the season.
Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon (Jac) – After Jacksonville selected former-LSU Tiger Leonard Fournette with the #4 overall pick, it is clear that Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon’s days of being a “dynamic” duo are over. Ivory will likely play second fiddle to Fournette on rushing downs while Yeldon can still be an asset in the passing game. Ivory is under contract until 2020 – but Jacksonville has an out-clause to shake free from his deal at the end of the 2017 season. T.J. Yeldon is on his rookie deal until 2018. Still, there is no doubt Jacksonville is trying to change their offensive identity with Leonard Fournette. He will be the Jags’ centerpiece on offense in new Executive VP Tom Coughlin’s attempt to mask Blake Bortles and play sound defense on the back end. Over the past three years, Jacksonville has finished in the bottom-8 in rush play percentage in the NFL. That is sure to change. Moreover, It is clear Coughlin has his hands all over the Jags’ 2017 draft. The offensive line class this year was extremely weak, but Jacksonville added one of the top-3 lineman prospects in the draft in Cam Robinson. Jacksonville’s GM Dave Caldwell said that Robinson will “compete” to play tackle, but he will most likely end up playing in the Jags’ interior at guard with new veteran addition Branden Albert manning left tackle.
Jonathan Stewart (Car) – A new era is coming to Charlotte. Jonathan Stewart has weathered a bungled running back by committee with DeAngelo Williams and he’s survived a number of injuries, but Christian McCaffrey is in town to eventually usurp the veteran Stewart and provide an element the Panthers have sorely lacked over the past few years: Individual play-making. Stewart still has some juice left in his feet at 30-years-old, but the Panthers’ are going to systematically change their offense to involve McCaffrey as a rusher and receiver. Stewart finished as the RB13 (2015) and RB20 (2016) in PPR Points/Game over the last two seasons, but he is a zero in the passing game and now will alleviate the majority of first- and second-down duties to McCaffrey. Stewart may still be worth a stab in the very late rounds of best-ball drafts with the hopes he vultures touchdowns from Cam Newton and McCaffrey, but his standalone value was severely diminished in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Latavius Murray/Jerick McKinnon (Min) – The Vikings’ backfield is going to be an absolute mess in 2017. Six weeks after the team signed Latavius Murray, the Vikings had to give everyone a fantasy headache. Minnesota moved up to select Dalvin Cook at #41 overall, making an already rough backfield even harder to project. Not only is the Vikings’ offensive line still reeling—they were easily the worst run-blocking unit in the league in 2016—they now have a three-headed monster possibly evolving with Cook, Murray, and Jerick McKinnon as a receiver. Cook will probably come into Training Camp with a step-ahead for the “lead” job, but Murray and McKinnon will still be involved. No matter how you slice it, each back on the Vikes’ will eat into each other’s individual ceiling.
Jeremy Hill/Gio Bernard (Cin) – It’s officially over for Jeremy Hill in Cincinnati. After rushing for a monster 222/1124/9 rushing line in 2014 as a rookie, Hill’s advanced success rate, yardage splits, and cumulative statistics all fell off of the map in 2015 and 2016. Hill will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2017 league year. On the other hand, Gio Bernard is coming off of an ACL-tear and one of his worst seasons as a pro. Per SharpFootball, Bernard’s success rates were well below average when running behind every lineman except off of left tackle. Joe Mixon has major off of the field concerns, but there is no question both Hill (and possibly, to a lesser extent Bernard) have fallen out of favor in Cincinnati. The Bengals lost two key linemen in Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler this offseason and Gio Bernard will remain involved in the passing game when he is back to 100 percent health, but Joe Mixon should get every chance to be the lead back for the Bengals.
Mark Ingram/Adrian Peterson (NO) – Not only does Saints’ HC Sean Payton hate Mark Ingram, he also hates your fantasy team. Just to further mess with fantasy forecasters, the Saints’ addition of Tennessee back Alvin Kamara just further muddies New Orleans’ backfield. Adrian Peterson was never going to be a workhorse with the Saints and he has never offered much as a receiver, but his role along with Ingram’s alone would have been tough to decipher. Kamara was used in a sort of gimmicky way with on the Volunteers power-heavy scheme out of shotgun, but Kamara was split out wide on nearly 20% of his routes and was utilized heavily in the passing game while at Tennessee in 2016. Among the 14 running backs in this sample, only Christian McCaffrey (18%) accounted for a higher percentage of his team’s receiving yardage in 2016 than Alvin Kamara (15%). The Saints’ backfield will be a mess to project.
Spencer Ware (KC) – Drafting a running back in the third round doesn’t necessarily mean the end of a team’s incumbent starter, but Kareem Hunt will come into Chiefs’ camp Day One and push Spencer Ware. After losing Jamaal Charles to another ACL-tear, Ware provided continuity at times but he struggled down the stretch of the 2016 season. Hunt is a below-30th percentile athlete, but he dominated behind Toledo’s porous offensive line. In spite of the second-worst offensive line in the 2017 NFL Draft class (on Yards Blocked/Attempt basis), Kareem Hunt is the only running back over the past two years to have fewer than 40% of his totes create less than two yards. Ware will come into camp as the team’s starter, but Hunt is in a perfect spot to take over as Kansas City’s starter at some point in the upcoming season.
Rob Kelley (Was) – Kelley needs to be commended for his out-of-nowhere productive rookie season, as he was a lowly regarded UDFA who didn’t produce in college and tested poorly athletically. But Washington used him mostly out of need last year, and it appears they are trying to provide him with stiffer competition than Matt Jones gave him last year. The club drafted our #8 pre-draft RB, Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine, in the fourth round, and Perine is a phenomenal fit for Jay Gruden’s ideal run game. We wouldn’t be shocked if Perine led Washington in rushing as a rookie, much like Kelley did last year. Perine is big and bruising, but is just a way better athlete than “Fat Rob.”
Jeremy Langford (Chi) – Langford was a huge disappointment for the Bears last year, and Chicago was obviously not content with heading into the 2017 season with him as the passing-back option alongside Jordan Howard. Instead, Chicago spent a 4th-round pick on North Carolina A&T’s Tarik Cohen. Cohen is tiny, but he has explosive speed and good hands, and was very productive in college (albeit at a smaller school). Langford’s time as a fantasy-relevant option was short, and he may not even make this roster.
Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe (Ten) – It was no secret that the Titans coveted a WR in the first round with one of their two picks, because they needed to upgrade the weapons at Marcus Mariota’s disposal. The Titans didn’t leave it to chance in the middle of the first round by taking their guy Corey Davis at #5 overall. Davis was the most polished route runner and overall WR prospect in this year’s class, and he’ll likely play on the outside right away for the Titans. The Titans then added another one of our favorite WRs in this year’s class in the third round, drafting Taywan Taylor. He’ll have the chance to play right away out of the slot, and he’s also capable of playing on the outside. That means second-year WR Sharpe will be pushed to the bench when the Titans use 2-WR sets. Matthews is coming off a strong first season (65/945/9 receiving) with the Titans, but he’s better off being a complementary piece going forward. Davis projects to eventually be the #1 WR in this offense at some point early in his career and potentially in 2017.
Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, and Travis Benjamin (LAC) – The Chargers surprised many by taking WR Mike Williams, a big (6’3”, 218 pounds) physical outside WR. By adding Williams, the Chargers offense became even more dangerous than they were before the draft. However, this passing game also became a major fantasy headache for 2017 because Philip Rivers now has six very capable receivers to distribute passes to between Allen, Tyrell, Benjamin, Mike Williams, Hunter Henry, and Antonio Gates. The move also signals that the Chargers are (correctly) worried that Allen just can’t stay healthy, with Keenan coming off yet another major injury in 2016 (a torn ACL). Mike Williams is the type of player who could eventually command plenty of volume as an outside target like Alshon Jeffery, which will obviously hurt the likes of the other WRs in this offense.
Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell (Cin) – The Bengals got the fastest player in Combine history by taking John Ross with the #9 pick overall. The Bengals needed another playmaker to pair with A.J. Green, with TE Tyler Eifert seemingly always hurt and Boyd and LaFell being just solid complementary pieces. The Bengals added another speedster in Josh Malone in the fourth round, who also brings some size on the outside at 6’3″, 208 pounds. Ross is obviously best known for his speed, but we were pleasantly surprised by his route running, so he’s more than just a deep threat. The Bengals will look to get Ross on the field as much as possible, which means that LaFell or Boyd will have to come off the field in 3-WR sets. Boyd and LaFell are now fringe fantasy options heading into training camp.
Cameron Brate (TB) – We barely knew you, Brate. After tying Hunter Henry for the league lead in receiving scores among tight ends (8) in 2016, Cameron Brate’s days as a TE1 (top-12) are over after one strong year. After Brate surprisingly popped up as the TE11 (PPR Points/Game) in 2016, the former Harvard-man will have a hard time repeating his breakout season with O.J. Howard coming to the Bay. Brate was an exclusive-rights free agent this offseason and re-upped his deal with the Bucs’ for one-year, but the size-speed freak O.J. Howard will cut into Brate’s snaps almost immediately. Brate was a great one-year story, but O.J. Howard is too talented to be left on the sideline for long.
Tyler Higbee (LAR) – We’ve been intrigued by Higbee’s fantasy potential ever since Sean McVay came over from Washington and Lance Kendricks left for Green Bay in free agency. The Rams threw a little water on the excitement by drafting another exciting receiving prospect in Gerald Everett in the second round. Everett drew plenty of comparisons to Jordan Reed in the pre-draft process because of his size (6’3”, 239 pounds) and athleticism (4.62 speed, 37½” vertical). McVay coached Reed since he broke into the league, and he probably sees a lot of similarities between Everett and Reed. Higbee also has the physical tools to be a matchup nightmare in the middle of the field, but McVay hand-selecting his own TE with their first pick in the 2017 draft (they traded their first-round pick for Jared Goff in 2016) isn’t a great sign Higbee breaking out after a quiet rookie season.
Gary Barnidge (Cle) – In late-March of this year, Browns’ HC Hue Jackson signaled that Cleveland “needed an upgrade” out of the tight end position. They just got it. David Njoku is an absolute physical menace and is going to immediately give the Browns’ a size-speed freak for which to build their offense around. Njoku is a 96th percentile SPARQ athlete, possesses 76th percentile weight-adjusted speed, and posted a 98th percentile score in the broad jump. Barnidge dropped a 79/1043/9 receiving line in 2015, but was completely pedestrian in 16 games of work in 2016 (55/612/2). Barnidge’s three career games of 100 or more yards of receiving each came in 2015. After his two year’s in the sun as the Browns starter, Barnidge indicated on his Twitter account on Friday that he has been released. It’s a cold business, but he should be able to find work as a backup somewhere.
Zach Miller (Chi) – The Bears trusted Miller to stay healthy last season, as they had absolutely no depth behind him. Well, they made a big mistake as the injury-prone Miller suffered a Lisfranc fracture and missed the final six games of the season. They addressed the issue by bringing in the rock solid Dion Sims to push Miller for playing time, and they drafted one of the more intriguing prospects at the position in Adam Shaheen at #45 overall. The Bears won’t be counting on Shaheen to play right away because he’s making quite the leap coming from Division II Ashland after playing Division III hoops at Pitt Johnstown in 2013. Still, Shaheen is clearly the future of the position for the Bears, and they’ll play him as soon as they feel he’s ready. Miller is coming off yet another major foot injury at 32 years old, and he has to contend with Sims and Shaheen for playing time, so his path to fantasy relevance is filled with potholes.
None of note.
None of note.
These players could have been affected in the NFL Draft in one way or another, but we think their fantasy stock remains largely unchanged.
None of note.
C.J. Anderson (Den) – The Broncos still have Devontae Booker, of course, but they did go ahead and trade Kapri Bibbs to the 49ers, for what it’s worth (not much). More importantly, they didn’t invest much draft capital on the position in this draft. They did use a 6th round pick on RB De’Angelo Henderson, but he’s more of a space player and rotational/3rd down type, and it’s hard to envision him pushing the savvy veteran Anderson – who’s like a coach on the field – for significant snaps. Most likely, he’ll compete with Booker for reps behind Anderson, so CJA looks set again for a large role in 2017 behind an OL that was upgraded with the 20th overall selection Garett Bolles, who’s a good run-blocker.
Ameer Abdullah (Det) – Lion GM Bob Quinn said earlier this year that one of his top priorities this year was to get their running game going. But as it turns out, that had nothing to do with their personnel – at least at the RB position. The Lions lost two guys on OL in Riley Reiff and Larry Warford, but they upgraded up front in free agency with the additions of RT Rick Wagner and G T.J. Lang. Not only did the Lions fail to sign a back in free agency, they also made nine draft picks in Philadelphia with none of them being a RB. That has to be an indication that they’re comfortable with Abdullah. He’s been frustrating, due largely to injuries, but he’s a very skilled runner and a versatile weapon who can be a strong solid asset. It might have happened in 2016, since he looked great in the preseason and for the 1.5 games he played in the regular season. In those six quarters, Abdullah put up 18/101/0 rushing (5.6 YPC) and 5/57/1 receiving, so the numbers were good. His upside will be capped due to the presence of Theo Riddick, but Abdullah will be an affordable fantasy pick based on his talent and solid role.
Kenneth Dixon/Terrance West (Bal) – Dixon’s suspended the first four games of the season, which is an obvious problem. But things could be looking a lot worse now that the draft is over, since the team didn’t use a single pick on a back. Them passing on RB doesn’t mean they weren’t looking at some of the backs in this class. In fact, since the Raven running game has underwhelmed two years running, HC John Harbaugh at season’s end said they “need another back.” But defense was their priority. Danny Woodhead will have his role as the 3rd down and changeup back, and West should hold solid value at least the first four weeks of the season. But upon his return, Dixon may very well get a chance to usurp West as their primary early-down back. He had a better yards-per-carry average than West (4.3 vs. 4.0) and Dixon saw more snaps, carries and yards than West in four of their last six games.
Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood (Phi) – All in all, the Draft was an unexpected source of good news for the fantasy value of Sproles and Smallwood. While the Eagles did draft the diminutive Donnel Pumphrey, they seemed to miss on multiple early-down RB targets during the weekend, including Dalvin Cook and Samaje Perine. While the Eagles did sign highly regarded UDFA Corey Clement and could still add a vet, it’s looking like Sproles and Smallwood will be the best bets for fantasy value here in the early going (keep in mind Ryan Mathews is still on the roster, but is expected to be released after June 1).
Doug Martin (TB) – The Bucs passed on Adrian Peterson and all other free agent RBs, and then they passed on Jameis Winston’s former college teammate Dalvin Cook, a player rumored to be on their radar as a possible first-round pick. They did select a back in Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols, and he can potentially be a three-down back for them. But based on feedback from the team post-draft, they appear to be quite pleased with where Martin is now – and prepared to roll with Martin (once back from his suspension) as their primary back. Martin will have competition for touches with Charles Sims, McNichols, and potentially 1-2 other RBs, but it’s pretty clear that his standing with the team is a lot better than the perception was at season’s end earlier this year. Even better for Martin and the Bucs, they’ve added some really nice receivers in free agency and the draft, so Martin could see the lightest boxes he’s ever seen once he returns to the field.
Isaiah Crowell (Cle) – Crowell has yet to sign his RFA tender or report to the team, but with the team passing on drafting a viable replacement in a deep class at the position, that’s only a formality now. The durable Crowell has yet to miss a game in three seasons, and he’s coming off a 2016 season in which he set career-high marks for carries (198), rushing yards (952), YPC (4.8), catches (40) and receiving yards (319). As encouraging, the team devoted major resources to their OL in free agency, adding stud G Kevin Zeitler and versatile interior guy JC Tretter. Cleveland’s line should be one of the ten best in the league this year, so things are looking up for Crowell, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent in one year’s time.
Jonathan Williams (Buf) – Starter LeSean McCoy will be 29 in July with a lot of mileage, so with Mike Gillislee gone, our attention should be turning to the backup/handcuff situation. The Bills will likely bring someone in of note to compete for a spot, but they passed on the position in the draft, and it was a deep draft for RBs. Williams didn’t play much as a rookie, but considering their depth at the position, it was kind of a surprise he played as much as he did (12% of the snaps in his 10 appearances). He didn’t exactly stand out, and he did lose two fumbles, but Williams wasn’t healthy in 2016. After missing his senior season with a foot injury, Williams’ foot was still on the mend when he reported for rookie minicamp, so he wasn’t healthy as a rookie. Williams claims to be 100% now, though, and he’s had a good off-season. It’s worth noting that our Greg Cosell really liked his college tape a lot at Arkansas before the foot injury, so Williams is officially a sleeper handcuff in 2017.
Ty Montgomery (GB) – After the Packers’ (notoriously) were stagnant in free agency once more, wide receiver-turned-runner Ty Montgomery cleared one hurdle en route to starter snaps in 2017. He may just be one step closer after the NFL Draft. Green Bay did take three running backs—Jamaal Williams (#134 overall; 4th round), Aaron Jones (#182 overall; 5th round), and Devante Mays (#238; 7th round)—but none of which were selected with a premium capital selection. The Pack had their pick between Dalvin Cook and Joe Mixon at #33 overall, but instead they used their first pick of the 2017 NFL Draft on a corner, Kevin King. To be fair, the optics of drafting three backs in one draft isn’t great on the surface for Montgomery’s job security. Still, Williams finished last in the following Yards Created categories among the 2017 class: Yards Created/Attempt (from Shotgun), Yards Created/Att. (vs. 7 or fewer defenders in the box), percentage of carries to create 10+ yards, and he was last in Pass Protection Execution Percentage. Aaron Jones is a more interesting name, however. Jones accounted for 82% of UTEP’s rushing yardage in his final year and posted 85th percentile or better scores in the burst and agility drills at the NFL Combine. Jamaal Williams is an 8th percentile NFL athlete. Late-round dart throw Devante Mays has 83rd percentile weight-adjusted speed, but had just 202 career carries at Utah State after a leg injury cut most of his 2016 season short. Ty Montgomery was unquestionably the Packers’ best back last year even though he saw double-digit carries three times all year (including playoffs). Montgomery will now have an entire offseason to prepare for playing running back full-time, but Christine Michael and the Packers’ three 2017 draftees will ultimately cut into Montgomery’s share of carries.
Frank Gore (Ind) – What is dead may never die. Entering his 13th year in the league, Frank Gore exited the 2017 NFL Draft looking relatively clean. The Colts’ drafted USF product Marlon Mack at #143 overall (4th round), but that type of capital isn’t necessarily indicative of an immediate starter come Week 1. Though, Mack is a fantastic fit in Indianapolis. At USF in 2016, Mack finished last in the percentage of carries that created zero and less than two yards but he was fifth among all rushers in the 2017 class sample in carries that created 40-plus yards (2.6%). Even though Mack bounced a ton of runs and doesn’t yet understand the nuances of running the ball inbetween the tackles, he is a promising receiver. Marlon Mack ran 39% of his routes split out at wide receiver in 2016, which was by far the most in the 2017 running back class. For comparison’s sake, Christian McCaffrey ran 31% of his routes out wide at Stanford. Mack probably isn’t an every down workhorse at the next level, but he should fit seamlessly as a moveable chess piece with the Andrew Luck-led Colts’ aerial attack. Frank Gore turns 34 in mid-May and is currently the 45th back off of the board at 133 overall in early MFL10 average draft position.
None of note.
Charles Clay (Buf) – For what it’s worth, the Bills did not dip into an outstanding TE class in the draft, so they are married to Clay as their guy for at least another season. Especially given Sammy Watkins’ injury, Clay is a needed target for Tyrod Taylor. Clay actually led the Bills in receiving last year and finished with 57/552/4 receiving on 87 targets (65.5 catch rate, 9.7 YPC) in 15 games. Those weren’t great numbers, but from Weeks 14-17, he posted 21/229/4, ranking as the #3 fantasy TE in that time with 17.0 FPG. Clay has been hampered by knee and back issues the last two years, but he didn’t miss a game this season because of an injury, so he’s still on the radar for those in larger/deeper leagues.
Eric Ebron (Det) – There was talk of the Lions potentially using an early pick on a TE, perhaps even one of the studs at the position in the first round. That didn’t happen, which was good news for Ebron, but they did add Toledo’s Michael Roberts in the 4th round. Roberts led all college TEs with 16 TDs last year, so he could easily be a productive red zone threat for Matthew Stafford, at Ebron’s expense. But at 6’4” and 270 pounds, he (at least initially) projects best as more of an in-line guy rather than in space player like Ebron. The Lions will be making a decision this week on picking up Ebron’s fifth-year option, but regardless of the direction they go Ebron is on notice this year. If they don’t pick up the option, Ebron will be in the final year of his rookie deal, so motivation won’t be a problem. Ebron’s first three seasons have been more frustrating than encouraging, due mainly to injuries, but he is very talented and he definitely has developed and flashed at times. There’s still a chance he busts out, especially with Anquan Boldin off the roster.
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Keep an eye on these players and situations. It may be too early to make a call one way or the other on them, but they are situations worth watching.
Alex Smith (KC) – Smith’s time in Kansas City is obviously running out, as the Chiefs made a highly aggressive move to trade into the top 10 for Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes. While Mahomes needs significant polish, which indicates to us he won’t be able to play right away, there’s no doubt Andy Reid sees a lot of Brett Favre, his former pupil, in Mahomes. We’d be shocked if Mahomes is the Chiefs’ starter Week 1, and Smith might well start the entire year for Kansas City. But Mahomes is a next-level talent in whom Reid clearly believes, and he won’t be on the bench in 2018, we’d wager. Smith has one last chance to take the Chiefs deep into the playoffs (and fortunately for him, the team is pretty stacked).
Andy Dalton (Cin) – It’s easy to make sense of the Bengals’ selection of speedy WR John Ross at #9 overall in the NFL Draft, as they clearly lacked a deep-ball threat opposite the all-world A.J. Green. The question is if Dalton is the QB to truly take advantage of that. Moreover, Dalton still is playing behind an offensive line that was absolutely decimated in free agency. Ross is a phenomenal talent (as is controversial second-round pick Joe Mixon), but we are still on the fence about Dalton’s ability to be a useful fantasy asset in 2017.
Jared Goff (LAR) – The jury is still out on Goff (to say the least), but the Rams are at least trying to help him, taking South Alabama TE Gerald Everett in the second round, then a pair of WRs in Eastern Washington’s Cooper Kupp in the third and Texas A&M’s Josh Reynolds in the fourth, which seems like a hell of a pick at the time. Whether Goff can actually take advantage is a question, but the Rams are at least trying to arm him.
Cody Kessler (Cle) – The Browns spent a second-round pick on Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer, who has a lot to like about him, but also could need time to develop. As of now, we’d assume Kessler is the leader in the clubhouse to start, and given the Browns actually have a pretty nice supporting cast around him (at OL, RB, WR, and TE), there’s a pathway to fantasy success here. But how do the Browns view Kizer as a developmental prospect?
Lamar Miller (Hou) – The Texans were perilously thin behind Lamar last season, and they addressed the problem by adding D’Onta Foreman in the third round. Foreman has the body to be a power back, early-down runner, but he didn’t run with authority and was more of a straight-line athlete at Texas. Miller is still the top back here, but it became abundantly clear last season that his body couldn’t handle the huge workload they gave him. Foreman will likely spell Miller next season, which could actually be good news for him. Theoretically, Miller should be fresher later into the season with a lighter workload, which should provide more consistent fantasy performances.
Sterling Shepard (NYG) – The Giants seemed destined to take a tight end with their first pick in the draft, but they surprised most by selecting Evan Engram over David Njoku. Engram played all over the field as a receiver at Ole Miss, including a ton out of the slot where Shepard spends most of his time. The Giants will try to develop Engram into more of an inline player, but they will still move him around to create mismatches against smaller DBs or slower LBs, which could hurt Shepard’s bottom line. At least the Giants will still run 11 personnel (3-WR) the vast majority of the time next season, but Shepard’s stock has taken a hit this off-season with the additions of Engram and Brandon Marshall.
Martavis Bryant, Sammie Coates, and Eli Rogers (Pit) – The Steelers, once loaded with WR depth, became extremely thin at the position thanks to Martavis’ season long suspension and Sammie’s disappearing act in the middle of last season. The Steelers got some insurance and one of our favorite rookie WRs in JuJu Smith-Schuster at #62 overall. The Smith-Schuster pick got quite the rise from both Martavis and Coates on Twitter, and the addition of the USC WR could push Coates and Rogers to the bench in 3-WR sets. We would love to see more of AB in the slot with Bryant and Smith-Schuster on the outside. The Steelers aren’t going to get burned by another Bryant suspension if he gets in trouble again, and they won’t be playing Coates unless he shows he’s ready to contribute.
Tyler Lockett and Paul Richardson (Sea) – Lockett isn’t guaranteed to be ready for the season coming off his brutal broken leg at the end of last season, and Richardson has a been a walking injury dating back to his college days at Colorado. Amara Darboh gives them some much needed depth at the position, and he should play ahead of Jermaine Kearse right away. Darboh is an above average in just about every area, but it’s tough to find an area in which he’s exceptional other than being big and competitive. Lockett and Richardson are much better vertical threats than Darboh, so he won’t take their jobs in that regard, but he does give them some insurance on the outside if they struggle to get healthy and stay healthy.
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Source: Fantasy Guru
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