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7 Critical Fantasy Football Questions: AFC East - Footballguys

Examining the critical fantasy football questions for each NFL team heading into the 2018 season

Each NFL team is its own fantasy football organism. Will they thrive or die in 2018? This series outlines the critical questions for each team across their skill position depth charts. In this edition: AFC East

How do fantasy owners handle the LeSean McCoy situation in Buffalo?

The Bills backfield is up in the air with LeSean McCoy dealing with an accusation of abuse and performance-enhancing drugs.

Verdict: At present, there is clarity on what Buffalo would do if LeSean McCoy misses time. DeMarco Murray's recent retirement announcement cascaded into news Chris Ivory would be the starter in place of McCoy if necessary. After the news of McCoy's situation, Ivory has still gone outside the top-50 running backs in many leagues despite the possibility of a handful of starts, if not most of the season. For McCoy, his outlook is foggy and was previously in the top-15 running backs of drafts. The high-variance running back group begins in the RB25-30 zone, which is fitting for McCoy as a boom-bust projection.

With arguably the worst quarterback situation in the NFL, is there upside the wide receivers in Buffalo?

Josh Allen, Nathan Peterman, and A.J. McCarron are jockeying for depth chart position, but regardless of the outcome, Buffalo is one of the weakest offenses through the air for 2018.

Verdict: In poor-projected passing games (the Bills qualify for 2018), there is historically only interest in the No.1 receiver for fantasy. The No.2 receiver only finishes in the Top 36 around 10% of the time. At least No.1 options for this low-ranking units have a 58% shot to finish as a WR3 or better. The good news is Kelvin Benjamin has the highest ADP of the Bills' receivers, outside the Top 50. Benjamin had a lost season in 2017 with a midseason trade and collecting only 27 targets over the last half of the season for the Bills. However, Zay Jones did little to elicit confidence of future No.1 ability and the rest of the depth chart lacks any challengers. While the upside is tempered, Benjamin has a strong chance to outperform his ADP on opportunity alone.

Is Kenyan Drake secure as Miami's lead back?

With Jay Ajayi traded to the Eagles during 2017, Kenyan Drake enters the 2018 season as the Dolphins starting running back.

Verdict: Drake is one of the most tenuous starters in the NFL. He was a late Day 3 selection and possesses a low BMI and minimal track record of production in college. The other concern is depth chart pressure. NFL teams state their feelings in the offseason with time to address positions. They brought in Frank Gore, one of the most accomplished running backs in NFL history in free agency. The last season Gore did not average 15 touches per game was 2005. He was not brought in be a player-coach and mere mentor to Drake. Also, while Miami waited in the NFL Draft to bring in a rookie back, by mid-Day 3 one of the biggest depth chart threats left on the board was Kalen Ballage. The Arizona State product has the most similar profile to David Johnson since the small school back was drafted in 2015. Ballage has interior running questions, but is a skill-movement freak and possesses strong receiving skills. Between the stable Frank Gore and physical potential of Kalen Ballage, Drake has no room for error as the penciled-in starter from durability to fumbles to missed blocking assignments.

Is 2018 finally the DeVante Parker breakout season?

The Miami Dolphins have an abundance of targets available from their 2017 passing game depth chart plus Ryan Tannehill returns from injury at quarterback.

Verdict: The 'Year 3 breakout' fantasy football articles used to be commonplace, but the instant success of specifically the 2014 rookie class has accelerated expectations for the wide receiver position into Year 1 - or at the latest Year 2 - before fantasy general managers get impatient. DeVante Parker enters Year 4 without a breakout season. Parker has yet to see 100 targets in a season, owns a subpar touchdown rate over his career, and has been more occasional flash than substance in his development. The great news for Parker in 2018 is the departure of target maven Jarvis Landry, who has collected more than 450 targets over Parker's three seasons with the team. Outside of Ryan Tannehill (or Jay Cutler) being an elite fantasy quarterback, Parker was not breaking out under the construct of the previous depth chart unless Parker outright passed Landry for top targets. Landry and Julius Thomas' departures leave 223 targets available from 2017. Kenny Stills already saw 105 looks last season and Danny Amendola is the notable addition. Outside of a surprise tight end seeing high-level targets or Amendola pushing for more than 120 targets, Parker is in an optimal situation to emerge with his best season yet. The best news is Parker's ADP is in the WR30-35 range. Using the historical matrix of fantasy production compared to quarterback strength, Parker as Miami's No.1 receiver has more than a 70% chance to outproduce his positional ADP.

Is Mike Gesicki relevant for fantasy as a rookie?

Mike Gesicki joins one of the weakest tight end depth charts in the NFL and is being drafted inside the Top 20 of the position as a rookie.

Verdict: Rookie tight ends are historically a very poor fantasy proposition. In Gesicki's subset as a Day 2 tight end with above-average, but not elite, metrics, they have produced top-12 production only 4% of the time in Year 1. Even in Years 2-3 the odds mire in the 15-20% range. The depth chart is wide open, but the wide receiver position is deep and Gesicki did not play to his tested athleticism on tape and under-produced compared to the athleticism at Penn State. Gesicki does not fit the criteria of an early tight end fantasy starter.

With Julian Edelman suspended four games, who benefits in New England?

Brandin Cooks is gone and without Julian Edelman the opening month of the season, there is fantasy value to be had among the wide receiver position in New England.

Verdict: The Patriots have annually taken on reclamation projects at wide receiver and as a result, the sturdy options on the depth chart are rail thin in 2018. Chris Hogan is by far the most established incumbent, followed by Malcolm Mitchell. Jordan Matthews could be an ideal slot fit in Julian Edelman's place with Cordarrelle Patterson, Kenny Britt, and Phillip Dorsett fitting the reclamation project moniker for the 2018 version. Before his midseason injury in 2017, Hogan had 52 targets in eight games, even with a healthy Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola. At least a 100-target pace gets a wide receiver into the top-30 PPR receivers with ease with top-20 potential with a few more looks or efficiency. With an ADP in the WR3/4 range, look for Hogan to be an early-season value and Jordan Matthews (outside the top-70 receivers in ADP) the wildcard to target late in drafts.

Is there any value in the Jets offense?

The Jets have one of the most lackluster skill position rosters in the NFL, providing little optimism for fantasy production in 2018.

Verdict: In the Top 200 of July overall ADP, the Jets have only three players (Isaiah Crowell, Robby Anderson, Sam Darnold) and none of them reside in the Top 100. Crowell was the notable free-agent addition and Sam Darnold was the No. 3 overall selection in the NFL Draft. With a poor team projection, negative game scripts expect to be commonplace in the second half to temper Isaiah Crowell's potential much like his time on the success-deficit Browns teams of late. The pass-catching back has more appeal in these settings, but Bilal Powell is a cut candidate and Elijah McGuire could creep into his usage even if Powell remains on the roster. The tight end position in a complete black hole of appeal with Oakland flameout Clive Walford as the biggest name of the group and Jordan Leggett (missed his rookie season to injury) and Chris Herndon (incoming rookie coming off injury) as the best receiving talents remaining. The wide receivers lack appeal at the top with Robby Anderson still up in the air pending league discipline from a reckless driving charge in the offseason the notable producer from last season (941 yards, seven touchdowns). From a cost-to-upside standpoint in deeper leagues, Terrelle Pryor and Jermaine Kearse are the most appealing. Pryor due to his rare size and athleticism combination, plus in 2016 Pryor posted 77-1,007-3 on a horrid Browns team. Kearse has no guaranteed money left on his contract for 2018, so his range of outcomes is de facto No.1 receiver on the depth chart all the way to a cut candidate by Week 1. Kearse has been an overachiever throughout his career compared to minimal fantasy expectations with Seattle (three seasons of 500+ yards) and the Jets last year (career-high 810 yards).