Between free agency and the NFL Draft, many NFL veterans have been rumored to possibly lose their respective starting jobs to a newcomer. Sometimes this threat is warranted. Sometimes it is not. We will look at some of the more notable situations and break them into two categories: “Too Soon to Overreact” and “Time to Hit Eject” below. Understanding each of these situations is essential for finding value in fantasy leagues. If your leaguemates are giving up on a veteran prematurely, it creates a great time to draft or buy for you. The same goes for understanding when to bail on a veteran who is threatened by a newcomer. Sell the player to an owner who still has hope.
Too Soon to Overreact
Frank Gore – The drafting of Marlon Mack scared many fantasy owners but Gore should continue to be the workhorse. His pass protection abilities are needed to keep quarterback Andrew Luck upright. The one concern is that Gore faded considerably after the Colts bye in 2016. The rookie and Robert Turbin will be used to spell the veteran. Turbin could be a touchdown vulture but Gore will still be the lead back if healthy. With a middling defense, Indianapolis will try to establish the running game. Gore makes a cheap RB2 option who offers solid production.
Carlos Hyde – Much has been made about coach Kyle Shanahan and his staff “banging the table” for rookie Joe Williams during the NFL Draft. We need to remember that Williams was an average prospect who does have some talents and traits for success. But, he is far from threatening the veteran for the starting gig. According to camp reports, little-regarded rookie Matt Breida has outplayed Williams in camp. Breida is undersized but tested off the charts in pre-draft workouts. Yes, all three backs will need time to adjust to Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme so do not get excited about reports about any of the 49er tailbacks being slow to pick up the new offense.
Ty Montgomery – The Packers drafted three running backs and now fantasy owners are hitting the panic button on Montgomery. Montgomery’s ability as a receiver will help him put up great numbers in PPR leagues and the three newcomers should not be a threat to Montgomery’s workload. He still needs to work on pass protection in order to stay on the field in more situations, though. Montgomery continues to learn and grow as a runner and has plenty of upside. Yes, Jamaal Williams (4th round), Aaron Jones (5th round), and Devante Mays (7th) round were selected and add talent to the position. But, we need to consider that both Eddie Lacy and James Starks are gone. Three third-day backs should not be enough for fantasy owners to move on from Montgomery. Williams is a one-cut runner who is a better football player than athlete. Jones is a quick player who will add speed to the backfield. Dayes lacks size and will need to contribute on special teams. The bottom line is that Montgomery is the unquestioned starter and the three rookies will need to earn playing time.
Cameron Brate – Yes, O.J. Howard should be a great professional player. But, Brate has a great rapport with quarterback Jameis Winston. There have been multiple reports the past two weeks about the relationship between the quarterback and his veteran tight end. Howard’s blocking ability will allow him to get on the field but it may take time for him to earn the trust of his quarterback. Plus, let’s remember how most rookie tight ends need time to adjust to the professional game. I expect Howard to slowly eat into Brate’s production, but fantasy owners can use Brate for the first half of the season. Howard’s presence has made Brate almost free in many fantasy leagues.
Time to Hit Eject
Spencer Ware – Even with 247 touches over 14 games a year ago, Ware only topped 12.5 PPR points in four of those contests. Further, many remember the seven receptions in the season opener against San Diego, but he only hauled in 26 more passes in the remaining 13 contests, an average of two per game. The selection of Kareem Hunt should spell a sharp decline in the fantasy numbers of Ware and Charcandrick West.
Jerick McKinnon – McKinnon has teased since coming into the NFL. He is athletically gifted but has struggled running the football. The signing of Latavius Murray and drafting of Dalvin Cook show us what the Vikings think of the young running back. McKinnon will serve as a reserve and play special teams for Minnesota unless Murray is slow to come back from his ankle injury or Cook re-injures his shoulder. Both are possible, but the team told us what they think of McKinnon by bringing in the two talented ball carriers.
Dion Lewis – Signing both Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee creates a crowded backfield even with the exit of LeGarrette Blount. Plus, backfield mate, James White, was given an extension. The Patriots invested heavily in the running back position and it leaves Lewis on the outside looking in. After showing flashes the last two years, we fully admit that Lewis is talented. He showed that with Cleveland and Philadelphia before coming to New England. As a Patriot, Lewis had some great outings. But, his inability to stay healthy has left Lewis as a depth option for the defending Super Bowl champions and he will only see the field on offense if two of the others are injured.
Vance McDonald – Rookie George Kittle was drafted by the new regime in San Francisco. The first-year player is already seeing some first-team reps in practice. He is undersized for the tight end position but is a solid blocker and very good athlete. Iowa did not use him much as a receiver but Kittle has good hands and knows how to get open. He is very cheap in most fantasy leagues and could be a low-end TE1 down the stretch in 2017.