Players and situations I like “or don’t like” from each NFL team, one month prior to the official start of the 2017 NFL free agent period at 4:00 P.M. on March 9.
Arizona: Who stands to benefit next can be up for debate. With the release of Michael Floyd, many see John Brown stepping into the WR2 role. But even Floyd frustrated his fantasy owners over the years because of his lack of consistency. It’s interesting to note that J.J. Nelson was third on the Cardinals in fantasy points. And while Nelson played on fewer snaps than John Brown and Jaron Brown, he was second on the team with 7 TD (behind Johnson).
Atlanta: Nipping at the heels of Mohamed Sanu is Taylor Gabriel. While Gabriel only played on 33% of Atlanta’s offensive snaps, he had more fantasy points than Sanu while playing in 2 less games. Believe it or not, Gabriel had the most TDs of Atlanta’s receivers at 7. While it’s tough to predict TD production, Gabriel’s usage at the end of 2016 could indicate a bigger role in 2017.
Baltimore: Most will probably gravitate to Kenneth Dixon, and perhaps rightly so. But it is worth noting that Terrance West (who is only 25) was used fairly consistently even while Dixon was seeing more action. For me, the retirement of Steve Smith opens the door for another WR to step up. Some view Breshard Perriman as that guy, but not me. Kamar Aiken may be old news, but he played on more snaps and had proven in 2015 (while Smith was out) that he can handle the role.
Buffalo: Sammy Watkins is by far the best receiver on the team. His value may slip after missing half the season as well, undergoing foot surgery. It is also safe to say that new head coach Sean McDermott will not run as much as Rex Ryan notoriously had done. If I were forced to pick someone a little less obvious, I may lean towards TE Charles Clay who played on more offensive snaps than any of the other Buffalo skill players. However that was under the old regime.
Carolina: The player to watch is not on the team yet, but it will be the next RB. Whether it is addressed in the draft or in free agency, the next RB is the player to own. Jonathan Stewart, at age 29, labored respectably through another injury-marred season. Fozzy Whittaker, at age 27, was no relief. And 26 year-old Cameron Artis-Payne has solidified his disappointing reputation as he ended the 2016 season as a healthy scratch.
Chicago: Much depends on what the Bears decide to do about Alshon Jeffery. With Kevin White waiting in the wings, Cameron Meredith will benefit the most if Jeffery bolts. Another receiver to keep tabs on is Deonte Thompson. He proved his worth making some tough highlight reel catches while starting 6 games. But that’s only if Jeffery isn’t franchised.
Cincinnati: Is Tyler Boyd poised for bigger things? Some may argue that after AJ Green went down, Boyd’s usage was minimal since LaFell became the number one target. But even with Tyler Eifert in the lineup, Boyd’s usage went up during that span.
Cleveland: Who makes the bigger leap? Duke Johnson or Corey Coleman? Based on the numbers it looks like it may be Coleman. He started in all 10 games that he played, and that was enough to be third in targets among receivers. In addition, Coleman saw enough action in just those 10 games to play on 51.7% of all of Cleveland’s offensive snaps.
Dallas: Two players to watch are Brice Butler and Geoff Swaim. Rumors hint that Terrance Williams will not be with the Cowboys in 2017. Butler surprisingly played on 40.5% of Dallas’ offensive snaps. And despite his low production, he did nab 3 TDs (1 shy of Williams). As for Swaim, it will probably take an injury to sideline 34 year-old Ironman Jason Witten. But in only 9 games, Swaim played on more snaps and saw more targets than fellow TE Gavin Escobar.
Denver: A torn meniscus can drop the value of many players. And perhaps some will take a conservative value ranking of C.J. Anderson. In my opinion, Devontae Booker didn’t do enough to separate himself from Anderson.
Detroit: The torn ligament in Ameer Abdullah’s foot appears to be healed. Considering Riddick, Zenner and Washington were all given their fair share of chances and were arguably average in Abdullah’s absence suggests that Abdullah should not lose much value as the starter.
Green Bay: Even in January, many seemed to be jumping on the Ty Montgomery bandwagon. The Packers officially moved him to the RB position for 2017. It concerns me that the Packers also stated that they want to bring Eddie Lacy back. It’s also worth noting that FB Aaron Ripkowski had as many TDs as Montgomery (3) during the regular season. It’s no secret that the Packers tend to spread the ball around, and Montgomery owners did experience some frustration when it seemed he would be leaned on and wasn’t. Temper your expectations.
Houston: The QB situation has scrambled the value of the key contributors. When DeAndre Hopkins is targeted nearly 40 times less and he catches nearly 30 less receptions than the previous season; and when C.J. Fiedorowicz has as many TDs as Hopkins and finishes second on the team in receptions – something is not right.
Indianapolis: This is another Carolina situation. The player to watch is not on the team yet. Frank Gore is one of my favorite players, but he is 33. Robert Turbin, at 27, is not even an upgrade to Gore, and undrafted rookie Josh Ferguson did little to boost his value. The Colts need a RB, and who ever that may happen to be may be the player to own.
Jacksonville: T.J. Yeldon is the RB to own. You heard it here first. Am I crazy? Chris Ivory was brought to the Jags to help. But injuries plagued the 28-year-old again, missing 5 games. In fact, Ivory officially started a total of one game for the Jags. One! But it may worth noting that Yeldon played on nearly 52% of the Jags’ offensive snaps. That may not seem like much, but only 15 RB in the league played on more snaps than that.
Kansas City: All aboard the Tyreek Hill express! Hill is dynamic and explosive. Andy Reid has said he wants Hill to be more involved on snaps. Stop me when this sounds like the same rhetoric used on Dexter McCluster from a couple of years earlier. You may not be able to tell, but I actually like Hill. What troubles me is that he plays on a Chiefs team that throws to the WR position 51.4% of the time which ranks them 26th in the league. Not to mention that KC was a 20th ranked offense.
Los Angeles Chargers: Just typing out the new city was odd. The big question may be: how high is Tyrell Williams’ ceiling? After a lacerated kidney in 2015 and an ACL tear in 2016, Keenan Allen is penciled in once again as the starter in S.D. L.A. If Allen can stay healthy for more than 2 quarters in 2017, what does this do to Williams’ value? Keep in mind that the WR2 on a typical Chargers team of the past has been rather insignificant since many targets are earmarked for Antonio Gates or the lead WR.
Los Angeles Rams: New head coach Sean McVay brings his OC skills over from Washington. This immediately raises the value of TE Lance Kendricks. Under McVay, he used Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis to the tune of 28.1% of the offense. Only 5 teams passed to the TE more than the Skins’ McVay. Now perhaps 100+ receptions, 1200+ yards and 8 TD is asking too much, but this was the output of 28% of the offense split by Reed/Davis under McVay.
Miami: Jarvis Landry had a quiet top 20 season. He finished 16th in standard fantasy scoring among his WR peers which was above his preseason ECR and ADP. But as a Landry owner myself I was expecting more. The 15 WR that finished ahead of him (combined) averaged 9 TD. Landry had a paltry 4. Even the 13 WR behind him averaged 5.6 TD. Landry’s TDs were well below the curve. It’s tough to predict TD output, and Landry owners may have soured on him because of it, but his stats still make him a viable WR2 with WR1 upside.
Minnesota: My apologies to any Vikings fans, but this is an offense that was dysfunctional from a fantasy perspective. Adrian Peterson was hurt again (knee/groin). Neither Matt Asiata or Jerick McKinnon reigned in the starter role. Stephon Diggs missed valuable time. And if anyone expects Adam Thielen or Kyle Rudolph to repeat their numbers, they could be in for disappointment. It is worth noting that Diggs was ranked 14th among all receivers (WR and TE) in average yards per game (70.2) in 2016.
New England: Most fantasy owners will severe a limb to acquire Rob Gronkowski. He is the best TE available without question. However averaging only 7 games per season the last 5 seasons is a legitimate drawback. Not to mention using a valuable first round pick to snag him can really be detrimental to a fantasy team by not using such a value on a more reliable WR or RB who tend to put up better numbers – and play more games.
New Orleans: It may be safe to say that Michael Thomas is a WR on the rise. Both he and Brandon Cooks had over 1,100 yards and were nearly identical in yards-per-game, snap usage, and fantasy points. But seeing that Thomas played one less game than Cooks gives him a leg up heading into 2017. It may be wise to also watch how the Saints approach the RB position. Mark Ingram is nearing 28, Tim Hightower is 30, C.J. Spiller 29, and none are sending the vibe that 2017 will be a better year for them.
New York Giants: My bold prediction is that Paul Perkins becomes a fantasy reliable RB in 2017. A pessimist will look at his 2016 rookie campaign and think otherwise. Perkins only started one lone game and was not able to wrestle more touches from aged veteran Rashad Jennings. But an optimist will look at his 4.0 yards-per-carry and the fact that Perkins did see steady usage the last 9 games. Could Perkins come from obscurity to be that fantasy relevant? Consider the same was true of Devonta Freeman in 2015, and with Melvin Gordon in 2016.
New York Jets: Vikings fans can probably relate to a similar Jets’ situation. The main fantasy contributors of Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker all fell well below expectations. Quincy Enunwa was an inconsistent surprise, but may be a victim of depth with Marshall and Decker ahead of him. The position to watch heading into 2017 is definitely the QB position. While Ryan Fitzpatrick became the Pillsbury Dough Boy for his 18 turnovers, it is worth mentioning that nine other notable QBs had as many or more turnovers, or more than Fitz and his tantrums.
Oakland: The Raiders may not be in Las Vegas yet, but the tag line of what happens in the backfield may stay in the backfield applies here. Translation: there seems to be mixed signals regarding Latavius Murray and DeAndre Washington. Before the wild card playoff game, coach Jack Del Rio said he wanted to get Murray more involved in the offense. Now a free agent, rumors swirl whether Murray has out-played Washington enough to get resigned? Both relatively young and lacking depth at the position, it benefits the Raiders to keep Murray and retain his role.
Philadelphia: Off-season rumors suggest the Eagles are interested in upgrading the WR position; that is bad news for either Jordan Matthews or Nelson Agholor – or both. Digging deep into the passing statistics, the Eagles attempted 609 passes which is above the NFL average of 571. They also completed 380 passes which is above the NFL average of 360. So far so good, right? The problem may be that the Eagles passed the ball to the WR position only 44.9% of the time – worst in the NFL. The irony may be that it’s hard to get production from your WR corps if you continue to target the WR at such a low rate.
Pittsburgh: This is one of the more fantasy relevant scenarios about to played out in the off-season. RB stud LeVeon Bell is a free agent. Rumblings regarding elite Antonio Brown suggest that the Steelers are fed up with his “antics.” Rounding out this three rivers circus is that suspended WR Martavis Bryant has applied for reinstatement (which does not seem promising). Fantasy owners probably hope that everything remains status quo, and my guess is that it will.
San Francisco: Kyle Shanahan brings his #2 yardage and #1 scoring offensive mind to the Bay. Unfortunately, Shanahan can’t bring most of the Falcons offense with him. Carlos Hyde is easily the most talented player he has to work with. I expect Hyde to be used extensively if he can stay healthy. My deep sleeper is Torrey Smith. Am I crazy? He’s only had a 1,000-yard season once in his 6 seasons, and he’s only had double-digit TDs once. Maybe I am crazy, but sometimes planets align for comeback seasons. Smith will be the most experienced WR on a team of receivers no younger than 27 when the season starts (as of February). Plus Smith does have a respectable history of yards per reception as well as yards after the catch.
Seattle: Was it playoff frustration? Or was it a Freudian slip from the coaching staff about C.J. Prosise’s durability? In January, coach Pete Carroll mentioned hammy, wrist, groin and shoulder issues that affected Prosise, credited with only 6 games played. Prosise averaged an eye-popping 5.7 yards-per-carry. Then there was the sudden mid-season release of Christine Michael. Seemed like the arrow was pointing up for Prosise. Yet when all was said and done, Thomas Rawls finished as the team’s touch percentage leader (12.6%) despite playing in only 9 games (Prosise touched the ball 4.8%). I see Rawls as the workhorse, but not nearly at the beast mode that Marshawn Lynch was used.
Tampa Bay: The position to watch is RB. Word is that Doug Martin is asked to walk the plank, not factoring into Tampa’s plans for 2017. Jacquizz Rodgers did well for the Bucs, but at 27, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where an aged journeyman back wins the job. Signs point to Charles Sims becoming the lead back, but his stats seem fairly pedestrian which is putting it nicely. Plus Sims is not all that much younger than Jacquizz. By process of elimination, that leaves 22-year-old Peyton Barber. Question is whether the Bucs see it that way.
Tennessee: Many have speculated that they see Derrick Henry stealing touches away from DeMarco Murray. And I’m not saying that it isn’t a possibility. But the ratio of any split work is key to our fantasy outlook. Murray has averaged over 100 yards from scrimmage per game over the last 3 seasons. Only 1 other RB has done that for that long. One. For this reason, I have a hard time believing that an NFL coach will simply cut Murray’s reliable, productive workload simply because he has a younger back. The titanic quandary for Tennessee may revolve more around the WR. Veteran Richard Matthews and rookie Tajae Sharpe who were on the field nearly the same amount of time for the offense (73%), but Matthews saw many more receptions, yards and TDs. Checking the game by game numbers, Sharpe did not help himself as he was virtually irrelevant after week 11. Not a good way to end a rookie campaign.
Washington: Like Tennessee, all eyes will be on both the RB and WR positions. The starting RB job looks like it is Robert Kelley’s to lose. But Chris Thompson was arguably just as effective as a runner. This could be a nightmare RBBC split unless one of them separates themselves in preseason. While Jamison Crowder appears to be a rising star, rumors speculate that both Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson will be pursued as free agents. If both leave, this would catapult Josh Doctson into the WR2 role, coming off an Achilles injury that limited him to only 2 games in 2016.