2016 NFL Fantasy: Situations to Exploit

Standard

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.

2015 Late Off-Season Fantasy Value Picks

Standard

With NFL camps about a week away, I can’t resist putting my undervalued fantasy picks out there.

Brandin Cooks – #1 receiver on a Drew Brees team that lost Graham and Stills. Why is he currently lasting into the 5th/6th rounds? A PPR monster season is not unreasonable. 

Ameer Abdullah – Joique Bell is gimpy already and it’s July. Theo Riddick is strictly a passing down guy. Who else they got? All reports say Abdullah is starter material.

Mark Sanchez – beat reporters out of Philly have been saying for months Sanchez looks better than in ’14. He’s been the defacto starting QB all offseason on a team that’s finished top five in offense each year under Kelly. I think the Bradford experiment will be short lived. 

Frank Gore – he’s creeping up in offseason mock drafts to the 3rd/4th rounds. But as a pass-catching back on a top-tier offense, that’s still a steal if you go WR, WR your first two picks.

Jonathan Stewart – I know Tolbert and Cam will vulture more than a few TDs, but Stewart was ripping off 5-yard runs at will late last year. His ADP is early round five right now but name me five backs who were better after mid season.

Charles Johnson – Yeah the Vikings added Mike Wallace, but Teddy has a year of reps with CJ, and Johnson still has to have that big-contract hunger. l’ll be drafting him after round seven or eight in many leagues this year.

Colin Kaepernick – with a depleted defense and a totally new coaching staff, expect this stat line often from the 49er QB: 13 for 30, 175 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 85 yards rushing, 1 TD. Folks that’s an ugly 21 fantasy points; but 21 points nonetheless. And you can get him late as a QB2. 

Ryan Mathews – backs coming off major workloads don’t statistically pan out well the following season. Just ask Priest Holmes and Arian Foster. So when Chip Kelly runs DeMarco Murray into the ground by week 3, Mathews could step fresh off the bench into a prime starting gig.

Martellus Bennett – under new OC Adam Gase, Bronco TEs scored loads of TDs. I know Cutler is no Peyton Manning, but with Brandon Marshall no longer a target in the red zone, I’ve got a good feeling the Black Unicorn will have 10+ TDs. If you wait on tight end grab him late.

2014 Late Round Fantasy Draft Bargains

Standard

Regardless of your fantasy draft strategy this upcoming season, there are going to be some mid to late round bargains to be had. And like the first shopper in line on Black Friday, you want to be the one to grab those bargains.

Granted, not every pick ends up being worth it in the end, but in fantasy football it’s important to get as many potential breakout players as possible in the middle to late rounds. With that said, here are some picks I’m looking to make after the marquee names are gone in my drafts.

Maurice Jones-Drew, Oakland Raiders, RB

Yep, yet another aging veteran who claims he’s in the best shape of his life, right. Isn’t that what all old guys say when they’re cut from their original team?

But not so fast on MJD.

In a recent interview, the 29-year old said this offseason he hired a personal chef, dropped his body mass index and is down to the weight he was as a rookie. What’s more, he’s going back to his hometown to play for the team he grew up idolizing.

And though it sounds like Oakland has a crowded backfield, here are two facts: Darren McFadden averaged only 3.3 yards per carry last season; and in five seasons, fullback Marcel Reece has never convinced the team to make him their lead back.

This spring, Oakland experimented with using McFadden as a kick returner. It makes sense, since he’s got speed, not natural running back ability. Jones Drew, on the other hand, has shown over his career a natural ability to wear defenses down and consistently grind out better-than-average yards after contact.

Here’s betting that because of injury or natural ability, MJD has the starting gig to himself by week two.

Kendall Wright – Tennessee Titans, WR

In only his second year in the NFL, with two less-than-accurate passers throwing him the ball, Wright racked up a veteran-like 94 receptions. And yet he only scored twice.

Regression to the mean says that number will go up.

The Titans didn’t add a receiver in the draft, and only Dexter McCluster in free agency this past off-season. So offensively, Wright will still be a major target in 2014, especially if Justin Hunter progresses as expected to draw coverage away from his teammates.

Starting the season versus three 2013 playoff teams in their first four games, Jake locker and company will likely be called upon to score lots of points to keep up. They then face only one more playoff team through the end of fantasy season.

Denver Broncos, Defense

Denver added big names DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib this off-season to bolster a sagging defense. Those two may fill the stands, but TJ Ward will improve the defense more significantly with his physical style of play and nasty attitude.

Add to that a full season of linebacker Von Miller (he missed a ton of time in 2013) and you’ve got a team that’ll create significantly more turnovers than last year, especially given the fact that the Broncos offense puts opponents in frantic come back mode weekly.

Davonte Freeman, Atlanta Falcons, RB

“Starter ” Steven Jackson has been hurt early in the season for three straight years.

Jacquizz Rogers averaged 3.6 yards per carry last season.

And Antone Smith hasn’t proven himself in five years to be a starting caliber back.

Enter Freeman.

Atlanta took the 5′ 8″, 206-pounder to be their eventual starter in this years draft. Given the above facts about last season’s stable of ball carriers, there’s no other way to interpret his selection.

The Florida State product can be had in the 7th to 9th rounds — as of mid July anyway — and is the type of fantasy pick that can win leagues.

Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers, QB

Who would’ve thought that after finishing in the top five of fantasy quarterbacks three straight years, Number 1 would be considered by many “expert” fantasy minds to be only the 8th, 9th or 10th best option this season?

Newton’s ankle injury held him back in 2013. He had it surgically repaired this off-season. Yes — his receiver corps has been reshuffled, but it wasn’t great last year by any stretch.

And realize, the smothering Carolina defense made it so Newton and company could play conservatively last year. This season, their weakened secondary should force the offense to manufacture more points than they needed to in 2013.

Wait on quarterback until after round seven, and you should be able to pluck Newton for a steal.

2014 NFL Fantasy Rookie Top Ten – A Knee-Jerk Reaction

Standard

The NFL draft is done, and so of course it’s time for a way-too-early-in-the-year prediction of the top 10 fantasy impact rookies for the upcoming season. These are in reverse order of their predicted ranking among others at their position, not strictly by predicted points per game.

“With the number 10 pick in the 2014 Fantasy Draft…”

10.) Sammy WatkinsBuffalo. Watkins and Robert Woods will draw some raves in 2014 as a solid one-two punch for the Bills and E.J. Manuel. As Buffalo finally competes for a playoff spot, Watkins’ stats will be steady if not flashy as he racks up yards after the catch. I don’t envision more than a couple scores, however, and a shaky QB situation limits his catch potential. Prediction: 5-7 ppg.

9.) Troy NiklasArizona. Rob Housler was finally healthy last season — for seemingly the first time in three years. Here’s saying he finds his way back to the familiar confines of the trainer’s room in 2014, which leaves the door open for Niklas — a 6’6″, 270-pound outlet valve for Carson Palmer. With Andre Roberts gone and Michael Floyd the “deep” threat, the Notre Dame grad should consistently find room to roam behind opposing lines and the potential for 5 or 6 TDs. Prediction: 4-8 ppg.

8.) Johnny ManzielCleveland. He either starts the season and gets hurt halfway through, or he rides the pine until Brian Hoyer’s mediocrity catches up with him. Either way, Johnny Cleveland puts up enough stats to warrant fantasy QB2 consideration. What will cap his value most is Josh Gordon’s off-field issues. Prediction: 12-14 ppg.

7.) Jordan MatthewsPhiladelphia. Philly’s fast-paced offense resulted in career numbers for DeSean Jackson last season. Combine the talent void he left with Jason Avant’s departure and Matthews should post WR3 fantasy stats on a team that likely finishes near the top of the league in offense again this year. Prediction: 5-8 ppg.

6.) Teddy BridgewaterMinnesota. The Vikings hoped they’d found their franchise quarterback three seasons ago when they took a gamble on Christian Ponder. This year they’ll roll the dice with Bridgewater. Because he’s got beatable competition in Matt Cassel plus three full seasons of college experience, the former Louisville Cardinal should see significant starts and put up QB2-worthy numbers in 2014. Prediction: 12-15 ppg.

5.) Brandin CooksNew Orleans . Cooks may have been the fourth receiver drafted this year, but he’s on one of the most pass-heavy teams in the NFL. Lance Moore and Darren Sproles — both free agent defectors — were targeted a combined 143 times in 2013, so there will be a fair share of Drew Brees passes coming Cooks’ way this season. Prediction: 6-8 ppg.

4.) Odell Beckham Jr.New York Giants. A talent vacuum left by Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham will put Beckham on the field more than Tom Coughlin would prefer for his rookie 1st-round pick. Combined with a bounce-back year from Eli, Odell could very easily average 6-9 points per week in a division full of poor defenses.

3.) Mike Evans
Tampa Bay. The end zone will be Evans’ playground during his rookie season with the Bucs. Benefitting from double coverage to team-mate Vincent Jackson, Big Mike could very well become Josh McCown’s favorite red-zone target, giving the former A&M standout WR3 fantasy appeal, with WR2 potential. Prediction: 7-10 ppg.

2.) Blake BortlesJacksonville. He’s the least flashy rookie QB on the least flashy offense in the league, yet Bortles should be a 16-game starter barring injury. And in the AFC South, that should get the UCF grad a consistent 13-16 ppg by default — which puts him near the top of this rookie list. But be warned, with a lack of big-time play makers at his disposal on a run-first offense I don’t see more than one or two big weeks for the Jags starting QB.

1.) Bishop SankeyTennessee. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. The Titans’ O-Line is about to gel with the additions of Chance Warmack last year and pro-ready Taylor Lewan this year. Tennessee cut ties with long-time starter Chris Johnson, then 29-yr.-old Shonn Greene had his second offseason knee surgery. If Ken Whisenhunt can get Sankey half the production he got from a Mathews/Woodhead combo last year, you’ve got a low-end RB1. Prediction: 8-12 ppg.

So that rounds up this year’s talented 2014 draft picks with the biggest fantasy impact from my perspective. Having said all that, don’t reach too early for any of these guys come draft/auction time. Recall how last year’s rookie class had more busts than booms.