Every season brings change in the NFL. Free agents swap teams, players get released, early-round rookies are drafted, and sometimes player movement just creates a better situation for the guys left behind.
Here are a few offensive situations that have developed over this past offseason that I think could be exploited for their fantasy potential.
Philadelphia’s Pass Catchers – Chip Kelly took his hypertensive offense to San Francisco. His coaching replacement, Doug Peterson, showed a tendency to focus on one receiver and one tight end (Maclin and Kelce) as OC of the Chiefs the past two years.
Meanwhile, Josh Huff and Nelson Agholor have not impressed the new regime thus far, which may point towards their roles decreasing in 2016. And newcomer Reuben Randle, presented with a golden opportunity to step in as the Eagles’ main receiver on the outside, has shown nothing over five seasons to make anyone believe he will be the offenses go-to guy. Jordan Matthews was unimpressive in a short tryout at split end, but he seems destined for the big slot role once again in Philly. Which leaves last year’s 2nd-half target monster Zach Ertz in line for a potentially busy season.
Given the dearth of quality pass catchers beyond Matthews and Ertz, 2016 should see Philly’s QBs locking onto the two vets all year long. They are especially appealing in PPR formats.
Cleveland’s Running Backs – The Browns once again cleaned house after the 2015 NFL season and hired a front office that is very up front about building through the draft. Translation: they’re going to be as bad or worse than last year and they admit that.
If the team is going to be playing from behind in many contests, of course, that means they will often be forced to throw the ball quite a bit in the second halves of games. Isaiah Crowell looks to be the favorite as the early down back, and Duke Johnson the favorite as the passing downs back. Having caught 61 passes as a rookie (4th best among NFL backs), it only stands to reason Duke will equal or exceed that total in 2016. New head coach Hue Jackson has already stated that he thinks Johnson can handle some extra carries as well.
My strategy, especially in PPR formats, is to take Johnson as a high upside RB2 or 3 and hope for lots of lopsided losses in Cleveland.
Jacksonville’s Running Backs – With potentially six new starters on the defensive side of the ball this season (Malik Jackson, Prince Amukamara, and Tashaun Gibson through free agancy, Myles Jack and Jalen Ramsey through the draft, and Dante Fowler rejoining the team after a one-year ACL rehab), the Jags will very likely be able to lean on their run game more than they did last year because they won’t be trailing so early and often like they did in 2015.
What that means to me is less yards and touchdowns for their receivers and more yards and touchdowns for backs Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon. Yeldon, however, was ineffective as a red zone and goal line back in 2015, which necessitated the addition of 2016 AFC-leading rusher Ivory. I think there’s a very likely chance Ivory gets double-digit scores in 2016, making him a great draft target in the middle rounds, especially in standard scoring formats and TD-heavy leagues.
Dallas’ Passing Game – The Cowboys were pretty terrible on defense in 2015 (as well as in 2014, but that terribleness was masked by a prolific offense.)
So what did a team in need of help on that side of the ball do this offseason? They drafted a running back and a linebacker in need of yearlong physical therapy with their top two picks in the draft.
Though the Cowboys did sign a few stop-gap players for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, they seem to be signaling to the rest of the league that they’re willing to try and outscore their opponents in 2016 like they did in 2014. Though everyone in the fantasy community remembers the MVP-type season DeMarco Murray had that year, Tony Romo and Dez Bryant put up very good stats as well as a result of the shootout game situations their lacking defense often put them into.
Romo in particular makes for a good later round value as he could end up repeating 2014’s stat line and end up among the top 6-8 QBS in fantasy.
Bryant, meanwhile, has never been a big yards compiler, but his touchdown total ceiling has to be around 20.