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32 Teams, 32 Critical Questions for 2017: AFC Edition

Examining the key questions for each AFC team heading into the 2017 season

Every NFL team has a critical question for the upcoming fantasy football season. Answer it correctly with your player ownership and offseason moves and be rewarded. On the flip side, choose poorly and another owner reaps the rewards. Here are the critical questions for each AFC team in 2017:

Baltimore

Is Danny Woodhead the biggest running back value on the board?

In short, yes. Woodhead's ADP of RB35 is a glaring target among the running back position. With Kenneth Dixon suspended to start the season and Baltimore the No.2 pass-catching backfield in 2016, Woodhead should have a field day. I project Top-12 PPR numbers for Woodhead, at least in September. Kyle Juszczyk, Terrance West, and Kenneth Dixon all saw at least 40 targets in 2016 and two of them will be absent to start the season with Juszczyk gone to San Francisco. Woodhead should challenge for 60+ receptions this season and was a fixture of optimal red zone looks in San Diego. With questions at tight end and Steve Smith gone of the receiver group, Woodhead is Joe Flacco's new best friend.

Buffalo

Buying or selling Zay Jones?

The wide receiver corps lost Robert Woods and the annual 'are we concerned about Sammy Watkins' discussion is at full volume already. However, Buffalo is at least exploring other options meeting with Anquan Boldin as of this article's publication and Watkins will be the unquestioned No.1 when healthy. Buffalo is not a high-level pass game as the offense show center around LeSean McCoy. Even if middle of the road, historically the No.2 receiver - should Jones win the job - has averaged a WR50-60 PPG finish with only an 11% chance at top-36 production. Jones' ADP of WR56 is middle of the road and outside of Watkins missing a significant piece of the season AND Jones being the clear benefactor as the step-in No.1, Jones is a neutral to avoid recommendation.

Cincinnati

Joe Mixon is a hot name for 2017. Is he too expensive?

I love Mixon as a prospect and future fantasy difference-maker. The question is if his redraft cost is too high. At RB12, Mixon is already priced as a clear lead back as a rookie. While Giovani Bernard should be a slow starter to the season, I am concerned about Jeremy Hill's role affecting Mixon. Hill is not likely in Cincinnati's plans beyond 2017 considering his contract situation and the drafting of all-around Mixon, but Hill has had more than 230 touches each of his three seasons and, at worst, projects as an early-down roadblock and goal line factor to Mixon's upside. Hill may even be the Week 1 (and early season) starter for Cincinnati as Mixon transitions. While I have drafted Mixon in Rounds 3-4 of early redrafts, I have seen Mixon creep into Round 2, which is where I draw the line. Have reasonable expectations, especially early in the season, for Mixon and know his biggest perk is as a later-season difference-maker more than secure weekly starter in September and October.

Cleveland

Should we avoid this passing game altogether?

Kenny Britt is a solid value at WR55 in ADP. Britt had one of the most off-the-radar 1,000-yard seasons with the Rams last year. Still in his 20s, Britt found a free agent home in Cleveland and projects as the No.1 receiver with Corey Coleman still growing into his NFL role (ideally as a speed-based No.2 on a strong offense). Even on a bottom-8 pass game, the No.1 receiver has averaged a WR35 PPG finish historically with a 10% probability of top-12 and 31% odds of top-24 production. As a fantasy WR5, Britt is a strong mid-round value.

Denver

Where is the value in this crowded backfield?

Jamaal Charles is the wild card, but health will be the biggest factor looming for the formerly elite producer. C.J. Anderson is the most expensive at RB25, but my bet is on Devontae Booker. While Booker had an overt opportunity to produce as a rookie, injuries derailed those break out chances much like Davante Adams in 2015. Booker is a three-down back in terms of his prospect profile with good size, solid hands, and good enough athleticism. Considering Booker is outside the top-60 running backs in ADP, he presents the best bang-for-the-buck of the tenuous trio of backs in Denver.

Houston

Is any player a value based on their ADP?

My early take on Houston is I will not own any of the main skill position players at their present prices. I will point of C.J. Fiedorowicz as a potential matchup TE2 with TE1 upside. Fiedorowicz has TE21 ADP and his 2016 season was a solid one with 89 targets and that is after a slugglish start of four targets over the first three games. Beyond Week 3, Fiedorowicz averaged more than seven looks per game, more than Will Fuller V as the No.2 option in the offense through the air. 

Indianapolis

Are fantasy owners burying Frank Gore too early...again?

Gore has finished in the RB10-16 range each of the last six seasons, two of which in Indianapolis. The team drafted Marlon Mack, but not unless Day 3 and Robert Turbin offers a serviceable, but unspectacular primary backup for 2017. Gore does not have elite upside anymore, but his ADP is screaming value at RB36. Gore is the ideal RB2 on a roster (or RB3) for teams hitting wide receiver and a stud quarterback or tight end early in drafts.

Jacksonville

Should we fade the entire passing game?

Yes. All signs point to a philosophical shift in Jacksonville with an improving defense, drafting Leonard Fournette, and signing (and drafting) two traditional fullbacks this offseason. Blake Bortles is in a make-or-break year and managing his volume will be critical. As a result, all of the garbage time-infused volume of Allen Robinson (150 targets), and Marqise Lee (105 targets) are concerning projections for 2017. After a gaudy 625 attempt last season, Bortles has projections in the mid-500s across the board by Footballguys staffers, a figure I project as well. As a result, Robinson's WR13 and Lee's WR63 ADP are close to their ceilings.

Kansas City

Is Tyreek Hill worth the rising price?

Since Jeremy Maclin left the commentary has been the surge of Hill as the clear lead receiver. However, I think Maclin move further solidifies Travis Kelce's standing as the leading target on the Chiefs offense. In Andy Reid's four seasons as the Chiefs coach, the team has been woefully below average in wide receiver production with the best season at 78% of the league average in fantasy points. The 2017 receiver group is arguably the weakest of the now five seasons where at least in the past they had Dwayne Bowe and Jeremy Maclin. Now around WR20 in ADP, Hill is cost prohibitive. He had only two games with more than seven targets in 2016. Hill had more than 30% of his offensive yardage come on the ground - a concerning figure to sustain - plus three rushing touchdowns. For Hill to turn a profit fantasy owners are banking on at least one of these factors: a repeat of his rushing efficiency, a surge in targets, a significant uptick in yards-per-catch.

Los Angeles Chargers

Should we be all-in on Keenan Allen?

Close to it, yes. Mike Williams' back, while not a concern for my dynasty recommendations, is a possible yield sign for his redraft impact. Allen returns to a pass game which was a shell of its former self without him in the lineup for much of 2016. Allen had 89 targets in half a season in 2015, including five games of double-digit targets. Tyrell Williams picked up the slack, along with 75 targets from Travis Benjamin and Hunter Henry having a strong rookie tight end season in Allen's absence. At WR17, Allen offers WR1 upside pointing back to his 2015 season plus the historical odds of top-8 fantasy quarterbacks' No.1 targets. If Rivers is in this zone (at worst he in in the next quadrant of QB9-16), the No.1 receiver has 60% odds to be top-12 and 89% chance to finish in top-24. Out of WR17 ADP, Allen is a worthy bet.

Miami

Is a DeVante Parker breakout on the horizon?

While I am bullish on Parker with a long-term view, I am skeptical a true breakout is in store for his 2017 season. Jarvis Landry, while not an elite option, is a strong bet for a top-30 PPR finish and another year of 115-130 targets. Parker saw 88 looks last year, nearly even with Kenny Stills, who is back for 2017. This distribution was without any tight end presence (Dion Sims saw 35 de facto targets). Julius Thomas offers more potential for 50-75 targets in the offense than Sims a year ago. Miami also had a minimal contribution from any other receiver than the top three on the depth chart. For Parker to break out into the top-24 or higher, his target share needs to eat away from Stills substantially plus keep Julius Thomas on the Sims 2016 track. With a mid-30s positional ADP, Parker does not offer enough juice to target in redraft outside of best ball. A final angle to consider is Ryan Tannehill's standing. If he continues in the middle zone of fantasy options, the average of No.1 and No.2 receivers (assuming Landry and Parker are in a 1A/B type split at best) for PPG finish is WR40.

New England

Can Brandin Cooks justify his ADP?

The first thing I did after the Cooks-to-New England trade was to investigate the target pie for the Patriots. It is difficult to project more than 100 targets for Brandin Cooks. Rob Gronkowski was limited to 38 targets last year with his injuries and he would collect more than Martellus Bennett's 73 if healthy. James White is not going anywhere and Julian Edelman was retained in a position where Tom Brady peppers the interior options. Even bumping Edelman down to 120-ish targets leaves little upside for Cooks off his WR12 ADP. Cooks needs to supplant Edelman plus render Chris Hogan and the ancillary receivers to irrelevancy (Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell combined for 106 targets) to justify his ADP.

New York Jets

This looks like an avoid offense with trainwreck potential. Is there a value play?

Yes! My bet is on Matt Forte. He was the clear starter in 2016 until late in the year when Bilal Powell played out the string and saw almost as many snaps in the final four games as the first 12 games combined. Forte has the lead back profile, not Powell, and the Jets lack any consistency at receiver with a rag-tag collection of low-pedigree options since Eric Decker was released this offseason. Forte is a strong bet to collect 200+ carries and challenge 50 receptions on a team with catch-up mode game scripts coming more weeks than not. The final point is cost where Bilal Powell is going at RB31 compared to Forte's RB40. Forte, like Frank Gore, is a steady-with-upside veteran option in the mid-rounds.

Oakland

Is Amari Cooper overpriced?

In redraft, yes. I love Cooper in dynasty and he sits at WR3 in my rankings. However, his WR6 ADP for 2017 is concerning. Both Cooper and Michael Crabtree finished in the top-20 of PPG last season, a rare feat outside of truly elite passing game factories like Green Bay and New Orleans in recent seasons. However, Oakland had little else to lean on with tight end a black hole (no pun intended) as Clive Walford mired through his second season and Seth Roberts was the de facto No.3 receiver. Oakland added Cordarrelle Patterson for some likely manufactured touches plus Marshawn Lynch in the backfield. Seth Roberts is still there and Jared Cook is a strong bet to see more than Walford's 52 tight end targets a year ago. In short, opportunity will be limited for Cooper to support his WR6 price with a high-level season. To equal or surpass ADP, give me Michael Crabtree at WR25 instead of Cooper at WR6.

Pittsburgh

Is the upside squeezed out of Martavis Bryant?

Yes. When calibrating fantasy expectations for secondary receivers one key question I ask is Receiver X surpassing the current lead option. Is Martavis Bryant passing Antonio Brown? No. So we are already in a different section of projections as a No.2 receiver. Pittsburgh has an elite receiver back in Le'Veon Bell and functional No.3/4 receivers in Sammy Coates and Juju Smith-Schuster. This is a loaded pass game. I have yet to mention the added risk of Bryant being a conditional reinstatement from suspension and a day-to-day risk of being out for the entire season, beyond the common injury risk for every player. Bryant is on the short list of players an owner should not be surprised if they wake up to a news alert. At WR23 in ADP, Bryant has some upside but not much. Add in the off-field risk and Bryant is too pricey for the entire profile.

Tennessee

Is Corey Davis an avoid player?

In redraft, yes. The WR27 ADP is prohibitive as the Titans are a strong running team as a standing point. Secondly, Eric Decker's addition is key. If Decker is healthy, he is a challenger to lead the team in targets and his track record shows a strong touchdown rate (even had 12 touchdowns on the Jets in 2015) and three top-12 finishes in his career. Rishard Matthews also offer strong depth for Tennessee after 108 targets in 2016 and sporting a 10% career touchdown rate himself. Delanie Walker and Tennessee's pair of running backs add to the Titans competition for pass game work this season. For Corey Davis to hit his ADP he would need to be at least the 1B option of receivers and approach 100 targets with high efficiency. Considering the Titans were No.31 in the NFL in wide receiver receptions last year (159) and they added Decker, Davis, and other receivers to their depth chart, Davis is a long shot to be a high-impact rookie receiver.