It's hard to believe that we're less than two weeks away from the start of the NFL regular season. For many fans, they're just now starting to pay attention. But for fantasy owners, for FOOTBALLGUYS, we're already many months into our preparation. As one of the contributors to the site's projections, I have had the entire league modeled and projected since late April. A LOT of things happen between then and the beginning of September. I, along with the other staff, tweak our projections and expectations in real-time. But it occurs to me that very little is ever said about the way our opinions change. This article, and others like it, will highlight qualitatively the assumptions that went into my initial projections that have since changed considerably. Enjoy.
On Second Thought...
Carson Palmer (ARI) is a risky proposition
Palmer was a Top-5 fantasy quarterback in 2015 but fell into low-end QB2 territory in 2016. There was a hope last year was an anomaly driven by injuries on the offensive line and among the receiving corps. A closer examination of Palmer’s career shows 2015 to be the outlier, and 2016 to be in-line with his normal level of play. • Yards per attempt (7.1) is closer to his career mark (7.3) than his 2015 mark (8.7) • Yards per completion (11.6) mirrors his career mark (11.7) versus the 2015 outlier (13.7) • Touchdown rate (4.4%) resembles his career mark (4.4%) versus the 2015 anomaly (6.5%) At 38 years old, we should expect Palmer to fall short of his career averages, much less exceed them as he did two seasons ago. Also, Bruce Arians has condemned the receiving corps suggesting there are only two “NFL caliber” receivers on the roster – Larry Fitzgerald and Jaron Brown. While he may have been posturing to get John Brown out of the trainer’s room, it speaks to a lack of depth which adds to Palmer’s downside and limits his upside.
Matt Ryan (ATL) is a QB1 but is overvalued in drafts
Ryan was the 19th quarterback drafted, on average, a season ago and finished as the #3 fantasy passer. He was among the best values at any position. There’s truth to the adage, “you don’t pay for last year’s stats” and fantasy owners are forgetting that when it comes to the reigning MVP. Ryan is the 4th quarterback drafted, on average, yet has almost no chance of matching much less exceeding that ranking. Last year he not only set career marks in completion rate, passing yards, touchdowns, touchdown rate, interceptions, interception rate, yards per attempt, yards per completion and passer rating. Regression is not only possible, but it's also likely. Ryan’s supporting cast returns intact so Ryan should be a good-but-not-great fantasy starter, but at his current price, that’s going to feel disappointing.
Tyrod Taylor (BUF) is a low-end QB2 and best avoided on draft day
The writing was on the wall this offseason when the Bills new personnel department seemed unwilling to commit to the veteran. Eventually, the team re-signed Taylor to a team-friendly two-year contract. Coming out of the NFL draft it seemed Taylor had upside given the additions of Zay Jones and Anquan Boldin, but things have been downhill ever since. Taylor has looked shaky, his coaches have been lukewarm in their endorsement, the offensive line has been beset with injuries, and Sammy Watkins was traded away. Taylor has risk along multiple parameters and is best avoided at his current ADP.
Cam Newton (CAR) has progressed well from offseason surgery and is back in QB1 consideration
I was among the lowest in the industry on Cam Newton for most of the preseason, ranking him as a low-end QB2. My issue wasn’t his talent; it was the decision to have shoulder surgery months after the season ended. I refused to buy Newton without evidence of health and didn’t expect the team would give us much to go on this preseason to keep Newton safe. I was wrong. Newton’s recovery has progressed quickly, and he started the team’s Week Three preseason game. Barring a setback, Newton deserves consideration as a fantasy starter in all leagues.
Andy Dalton (CIN) will be just fine this season
My first set of projections had the Bengals as one of the worst offenses in the league. The team lost two of its best linemen in free agency, and I was unimpressed with the receiving corps, not to mention Tyler Eifert was still telling beat writers he was “less than 100%.” Over the summer, I’ve softened on my outlook. The offensive line is still a question mark, but camp reports have been positive on the reconstructed unit. A.J. Green is healthy and had a fantastic training camp. Tyler Eifert is back in practice. And the depth at receiver is better than I thought. Dalton isn’t going to win you a league, but he’s fine as a later round option to use in a quarterback committee.
DeShone Kizer (CLE) will be thrown to the wolves
The rookie from Notre Dame did what he needed to in the preseason and will be the Week One starter. I thought Cleveland – with its next-generation player analytics process – would be smart enough to bring Kizer along slowly. Unfortunately, the trio of Cody Kessler, Brock Osweiler, and Kevin Hogan are stunningly inept, and the Browns are caving to the whims of “upside” at the expense of long-term value. I’m still not touching Kizer as a fantasy prospect, but others will now that he’s going to start most of the season.
Trevor Siemian (DEN) will be a 16-game starter as long as he’s healthy
It’s no secret the Broncos wanted Paxton Lynch to wrestle the starting job away from Siemian. If both played well in the preseason, the coaches would’ve likely gone with Lynch. That’s not how things went. Siemian was better in every facet of the game, and it wasn’t close. While Siemian doesn’t have fantasy value, his consistent play does put a floor in place for the likes of Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and C.J. Anderson.
Deshaun Watson (HOU) is not ready, yet
Of all the rookie quarterbacks, Deshaun Watson was the one I expected to start Week One. All he had to do was beat out Tom Savage. That didn’t happen. Watson was okay in the preseason but had very few highlight moments. Texans veterans openly endorsed Savage as the better option, and the coaches agree. Watson could still work his way onto the field later this year, but for now Savage will man the helm and, as a result, put a ceiling on the Texans receiving corps.
Andrew Luck (IND) is a major injury risk
I downplayed Luck’s shoulder injury in stark contrast to the concern I had for Cam Newton’s offseason surgery. As we get ready for the season, it’s Luck’s shoulder that worries me more – and it should concern you, too, particularly if you’ve rostered other Colts skill players. Luck has yet to take a snap in the preseason, nor has he addressed the media. It’s anyone’s guess whether he’ll be on the field for Week One, but usually “radio silence” is a nasty omen of what’s to come. I haven’t been able to bring myself to rank Luck outside the Top 10, but I would recommend passing on him unless he falls several rounds below his current ADP.
Blake Bortles’ (JAX) days as an NFL starter are numbered
Bortles was the easiest regression candidate to forecast last season after an insanely lucky 2015 vaulted him to fantasy prominence. Expectations that Bortles would settle in somewhere between 2015’s star turn and 2016’s disaster fell apart as training camp and the preseason unfolded. It’s clear he doesn’t have what it takes to start for a playoff team. Although he’s been named the Week One starter, it was a last-minute choice over Chad “Journeyman” Henne. Expect both to play this year, and not play particularly well.
Jared Goff (LAR) has upside, not that you should draft him in standard-sized leagues
Jared Goff may be a colossal bust, but it’s too early to condemn him. Last year was troubling, that’s indisputable. However, the offensive line is better; the receiving corps is much better; the defense will be stout, and the coaching staff is far more compelling than Jeff Fisher’s. A lot has to fall into place for Goff to be fantasy relevant, but remember every season at least one quarterback finished as a QB1 that wasn’t on the radar on draft day. Don’t draft Goff in 10- or 12-team leagues, but be open to picking him up quickly off waivers if he impresses in the first week or two.
Jay Cutler (MIA) is an NFL starter
When you’re cast aside for the likes of Mike Glennon, it’s reasonable to think the transition to NFL broadcasting is a permanent move. The only way Jay Cutler was going to play again was a major injury to Ryan Tannehill. And that’s what happened. Cutler reunites with Adam Gase, the best offensive play-caller in his career. The Dolphins have plenty of talent, and Cutler could easily be fantasy relevant this year if the line can keep him safe.
Eli Manning (NYG) is no sure bet to bounce back
Eli Manning and Ben McAdoo were like chocolate and peanut butter for two seasons. Manning was a Top 8 fantasy quarterback in 2014 and 2015 with McAdoo calling plays. Things fell apart last year once McAdoo became the head coach, and Manning ranked a career-worst 21st at the position. The additions of Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram were supposed to insulate Manning from last year’s downside, and a return to fringe QB1 value was possible. Unfortunately the offensive line – a problem last year – is no better. The same players are showing the same struggles, most notably left tackle Ereck Flowers. With a bad offensive line and what looks to be another sub par running game, Manning’s bounce back chances are dashed.
Derek Carr (OAK) is healthy and locked in as a high upside QB1
When Derek Carr broke his fibula, I feared it could derail his progress as one of the league’s most productive young passers. He recovered quickly and has been a fixture in preseason workouts. Healthy and armed with a long-term contract extension, Carr is one of the safer bets at his current ADP.
Jameis Winston (TB) is the breakout star at the position
I was skeptical of Winston coming into his rookie season, but his play and – more importantly – his off field maturity over the last two seasons convinced me otherwise. The Buccaneers have all the pieces in place to contend in the NFC, and Winston has checked all the boxes this preseason. Expect Winston to vault to fantasy prominence this year, and contend for the league’s MVP.
Marcus Mariota (TEN) won’t be far behind in the MVP race
Mariota’s stellar sophomore season ended on a low note, but he’s healthy and comes into this season with arguably the deepest receiving corps in the AFC. Rishard Matthews is joined by veteran Eric Decker and rookie first rounder Corey Davis, while veteran safety valve Delanie Walker remains. The bruising offensive line and effective rushing attack guarantee Mariota will have time and space to make throws. The sky is the limit.
Kirk Cousins (WAS) could be fool’s gold
Kirk Cousins doesn’t lack confidence. He keeps opting for one-year deals rather than accept what he views as a below-market contract extension. Fantasy owners shouldn’t be as eager to take that bet. We never want to overvalue the preseason, but nothing in Washington is comforting. The offensive line – a strength on paper – has not looked good. Terrelle Pryor is a high-risk #1 after just one successful season on a target-hungry Browns unit. Josh Doctson is immensely talented but hasn’t been able to stay on the field. Jordan Reed is already hurt and a concussion risk. Last but certainly not least, Kyle Shanahan is gone. It’s possible Washington will round back into form as the regular season gets underway, but there’s no evidence to suggest they can match 2016 – in fact, the wheels could be on the verge of coming off.