There are a lotta ins and outs, a lotta what-have-you's in our heads about fantasy football right now, it is difficult to keep track of it all. I've tried to capture what is slanting through my gourd and more importantly being informed my gut or intuition - which is not mysterious but a hyperprocessing of all of the data and experience we bring to bear when making a decision - by recording a stream of consciousness of salient takeaways on a team-by-team basis. Hope it helps you organize your thoughts as you head into drafts.
The writing is on the wall and it says “Buffalo is playing for 2018”. Sean McDermott should instill this team with new energy, but with an entirely new receiving corps, revamped secondary and new defensive scheme, gimpy left tackle and a quarterback that no one in the organization seems to believe in, expect a long year. LeSean McCoy might benefit from the vacuum in the passing game, but losing game scripts aren’t good for a running back. I’ve moved him down to RB4 and a late first-round pick, but I’m not even sure I would take him there in the moment of truth… Take Zay Jones or Jordan Matthews late on possible volume if you want. There might be a few good starts in there, but I would rather spend my late round picks on players in better offenses.
The Dolphins wide receiver pecking order for targets is changing. The team didn’t pursue an extension for Jarvis Landry, who is a free agent next year. Not only does that indicate that he’s not in their future plans, Landry already stepped back from the huge target share of his second season last year. DeVante Parker is healthy, dedicated, and his new quarterback thinks he’s a “faster Alshon Jeffery”. That quarterback, Jay Cutler, is a bolder downfield thrower than Ryan Tannehill and less likely to “take what the defense gives him”, that is hit Landry on his high percentage target patterns. Parker is the much better pick at ADP… There was a swelling of Jay Ajayi hype earlier this offseason, as he seems to be set up for a David Johnson/Le’Veon Bell/Ezekiel Elliott level role in the Miami offense, but that died down after his concussion. The talent might not be on their level, but Ajayi can definitely justify and deliver on his late first/early second ADP.
New York Jets
Is it worth it to pursue any part of this offense? Chan Gailey is gone and with him his history of getting the most out of limited offensive players. Bilal Powell does have the opening of Matt Forte’s hamstring being an issue already. Robby Anderson riffed with Bryce Petty, who has been the better of the two young quarterbacks, and Josh McCown has always been functional for fantasy even if he hasn’t been able to stay on the field for long. My worry is that this offense and team in general will be gripped by a malaise that will make predictable production a pipe dream… Austin Seferian-Jenkins is impressing in practices and ability has never been the problem for him. He does have to serve a two-game suspension, but if this offense isn’t overtaken by rigor mortis, he might have some waiver wire appeal.
The Patriots offense is set up for historic numbers with the best cast of weapons Tom Brady has enjoyed since 2007. Brady is a strong consideration if he’s still there in the 3rd/4th. Brandin Cooks could deliver on a third-round ADP if the Patriots use him a lot in the short game in addition to his deep routes. Rob Gronkowski outproduced all but 2-3 wide receivers when healthy last year while averaging about seven targets a game. I am cooler on Julian Edelman, who will need a key injury or two to deliver on his ADP (not that it isn’t possible) and Mike Gillislee, who has had lingering hamstring issues all offseason and preseason and has never proven he can hold up under a heavy load. Chris Hogan and all three New England backs not named Gillislee should be part of your end game. Hogan might end up being the big winner with Brandin Cooks clearing out defenses deep, and we already have seen what he can do with Brady when the matchup is right. Dion Lewis has RB1 talent, he just needs the role. James White had the role in the Super Bowl and he could get a boost if Lewis can’t stay healthy. Rex Burkhead is the only true two-way back in the group and his role could surprise. The Patriots backfield might be annoying for fantasy at first, but if injuries or patterns clarify it, having the right back could be huge for your season.
I have been shying away from the two main pieces of the Houston offense in drafts. Lamar Miller produced at more of a 7th/8th round level last year, yet he is still going in the 3rd/4th this year. Kicking Brock Osweiler to the curb will produce a dead cat bounce for the offense, but how much better will Tom Savage or Deshaun Watson be at creating touchdown drives and offensive consistency? DeAndre Hopkins, like Miller, produced more like a pick in the 7th/8th, and there he is in the third round. There’s a better case for Hopkins with Will Fuller out and no one like D’Onta Foreman nipping at his heels, but the Texans offense doesn’t have the look of a unit that will outperform expectations even though ADP of its two main pieces indicates a belief among the fantasy community that it will.
If Andrew Luck’s shoulder surgery recovery ends up being like a three or four-game suspension, then the current drops for him and TY Hilton will look like overreactions in hindsight and owners who draft them will be rewarded. The problem is that the lack of information from the team is raising the specter of something worse and also the possibility that they may rush Luck back and risk another injury. Luck might not look like himself at first and require some time before we can trust him or any piece of this offense. Unless the drop is absurd - like Hilton falling out of the top 50 or Luck falling into the double-digit rounds - it is best to avoid this offense, and that includes Donte Moncrief and his balky shoulder, and Frank Gore, who always seems to have an uphill climb to realize his value.
Chad Henne is starting the third preseason game… Yay? Confetti? Leonard Fournette already has a foot issue and you’re asking the Jaguars to be consistent on offense if he’s going to be a good fantasy pick this year. Allen Robinson isn’t as scary a proposition in the 3rd/4th with Bortles, but Chad Henne isn’t exactly anti-anxiety medication for fantasy owners. The quarterback problem is a sign of a critical problem in the Jaguars offense and it doesn’t seem smart to invest foundational fantasy picks in an offense that is being rushed to the hospital with only Dr. Henne there to administer CPR.
You better leave your draft with at least one or two pieces of this offense. The Titans have a scheme the league was having trouble with last year, they are returning their entire offensive line, which was outstanding last year, the backfield duo is one of the best in the league, they have added two impact wide receivers, and their quarterback is entering his third year and continues to grow as a player. Marcus Mariota, one of the two running backs, at least one wide receiver, and potentially Delanie Walker if injuries strike elsewhere are all good bets to outproduce ADP… Corey Davis is dropping to the tenth round in some drafts and that should be too good to pass up. He was dominating practices before hurting his hamstring and the team seems committed to making him a top two receiver when he’s on the field. He could take over this passing game in short order.
The Ravens have more questions than answers right now, including right tackle and center, a hamstring problem for their young deep threat, mounting injuries at tight end, a receiving back with a hamstring issue of his own, a dysfunctional running game, and oh, a quarterback with a back problem... I was poised to invest in Danny Woodhead as the “drain” of this offense when nothing else was working, possibly catching 80+ balls, but his hamstring has taken the shine of that profiting from disaster play. Javorius Allen has never sold me on his game translating outside of his hands as a receiver, but if Woodhead can’t stay healthy, he could be a very cheap PPR back that provides consistent production for the same reasons Woodhead was going to.
Of all of the easy calls later at quarterback, Andy Dalton might be the easiest. He was a low QB1 as long as AJ Green was on the field last year, and that was without Tyler Eifert for a good stretch of that part of the season. John Ross will add a vertical element to stretch defenses, and Joe Mixon will greatly upgrade the backfield. The only hitch here is an offensive line that might be below average at four spots. There’s a risk that the offense is very inconsistent, as Dalton is one of the worst quarterbacks in the league outside of structure, but the Bengals have been a good offense for a long time now, and Dalton’s risk/reward is well worth the pick it takes to get him… Joe Mixon could be a league winner by season’s end. He might get there through sheer force of talent or through injuries to Gio Bernard or Jeremy Hill. Since he is going only a round or so after Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey, who have clearer paths to immediate fantasy relevance, Mixon is going to be seen as a disappointment early in the season. Patience is key if you draft him, and if you don’t, start pestering his owner for Mixon in a trade as soon as you see they are struggling in the backfield or falling behind in the standings.
I want to believe things will be get better for the Browns offense. DeShone Kizer starting should at least open up more running lanes for Isaiah Crowell and get Kenny Britt and Corey Coleman more active in the downfield passing game. The team should be committed to letting Kizer learn by doing and leave him on the field through mistakes - which could be numerous. The long-term plan doesn’t require wins this year, and Kizer could produce big fantasy numbers through ugly losses that include a lot of garbage time. The strong offensive line creates a foundation for overachievement here, but it requires a leap of faith in quarterback play. Isaiah Crowell and the line is good enough to provide profit on the already optimistic third-round pick it takes to get him, but I find myself taking Lynch over him every time. The best pick from this offense is Kizer for late round quarterback drafters because of running ability and losing game scripts. The range of outcomes is wide for this offense, so investing them could pay off, but also provide a bumpy ride.
Martavis Bryant’s body (and hopefully mind) has matured since last we saw him, when he was already one of the best big play threats in the league as a green 1st/2nd year player. He was already a late bloomer at Clemson playing behind the likes of Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, so the reality is that we don’t know how good he can be in the NFL. He has an ideal quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, who loves extending plays and taking deep shots, and the line is now of the best in the league. I can’t say no if he’s still there in the fifth… Roethlisberger’s home/road splits have fantasy players spooked, but he opens against Cleveland and will be projected among the top 2-3 quarterbacks in Week 1. Always going outside of the Top 8 quarterbacks, Roethlisberger is a fine pick to split the difference between being one of the last to take a quarterback in your draft and giving yourself a chance to have production among the Top 5 in your league at the position. Drafting him and letting it ride for as long as he and the key pieces of this offense are healthy and making plays is a fine Plan A at quarterback - one of many suitable strategies at the position.
Trevor Siemian winning the quarterback job is more of a concession than a triumph for this team. He is a limited quarterback who will limit this offense. The good news is that Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas were already undervalued at their third and sixth-round ADP, which assumed the duo underperforming their 2016 level of play and production. That shouldn’t happen this year with Thomas’s hip feeling better and the return of offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who will emphasize the passing game, and especially the screen pass. Thomas could and should return mid WR1 value in PPR leagues with his 100+ catch volume and strong run after catch skills, which dovetail with the sure execution but lack of creativity or downfield derring-do that Siemian provides. Sanders is more of a boom/bust weekly option, but you can tolerate that at his ADP that only requires you to invest him as a sixth-round pick… CJ Anderson is more appealing than I expected him to be at this point because all signs point to the sad reality of Jamaal Charles being done. Perhaps by the time you are reading this, Charles has had a glorious third preseason game and asserted his role in this backfield as an explosive 8-12 touch back, but it is more likely that Anderson will get all he can handle early until Devontae Booker is back. While Anderson has never put a full season together, drafting him as your front-line RB2 can work because that means you banked advantages elsewhere and you can develop an RB2 option to replace Anderson once his season inevitably goes south.
Patrick Mahomes showed why the Chiefs traded up for him, and why he was the second quarterback taken in the draft. He has tremendous natural arm talent, creativity, confidence, and improvisational skills. We might not see him this year, but the dynasty outlook for Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill is brighter than ever… Alex Smith seems to be feeling the pressure from Mahomes in a good way and should be bolder this year, enough to possibly even create some fantasy value of his own. This line is returning all of its starters and the pieces of the offense fit together well… Kareem Hunt is probably going to be a 3rd or at the latest 4th round pick with the path to a lead back job unobstructed. I'm not sold that he's a clearly better pick than Ty Montgomery or Ameer Abdullah.
Los Angeles Chargers
Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension and the Sammy Watkins trade have made Melvin Gordon the clear #3 running back on the board and more valuable even though nothing about his situation has changed. Gordon is poised to benefit from a pass offense that requires more attention than last year’s Chargers air attack, although gains on the offensive line have been reduced with Forrest Lamp’s season-ending injury… All three of the Chargers top receivers are undervalued. Keenan Allen might not get enough targets to be the strong WR1 we projected him as last year, but he is going off the board as a WR2. Tyrell Williams was a solid WR2 for most of last year and he is going off of the boards as a WR4. The return of Allen will hurt his target share, but his ADP indicates an overreaction, especially considering Williams is only a third year UDFA and he played through a shoulder injury for about a third of 2017. Travis Benjamin is going for the same price as kickers and defenses even though he is the top deep threat in an offense that features a top passer… Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry will split the tight end targets in a way that is good for the offense, but unpredictable for fantasy. It is possible that Gates falls off of a cliff and makes Henry a reliable TE1, but for just a little bit more you can get Martellus Bennett or Kyle Rudolph, who don’t need any extra help to be consistently relevant this year.
The longer I look at the convergence of factors around Marshawn Lynch, the more willing I am to buy the ticket. The main risk is Lynch’s ability to hold up and stay at a high level of play at this advanced stage of his career. The year layoff can only help, and coming back to play for his hometown Raiders should provide plenty of motivation. The more important vectors for fantasy are the quality of the offensive line and passing game, which created enough opportunity for Latavius Murray to be a low RB1 last year despite two other backs each getting over 100 touches. As long as Lynch is healthy, he should deliver at least low RB1 production… Amari Cooper is still being drafted at his ceiling, with the fantasy community projecting growth that didn’t come through in the second half of the year during his first two seasons in the NFL. Dez Bryant, Jay Ajayi, Rob Gronkowski, and Todd Gurley all look like better mid-late second round targets.