The dynasty staffers at Footballguys will have regular Dynasty Roundtables throughout the offseason. This is the second installment with several staffers contributing.
1. What do you see Jordan Howard's role in Philadelphia? What is your early production for touches and fantasy finish among running backs?
Philadelphia’s philosophy is to deploy a collection of different runners throughout their games, so it’s tough to get a bead on which one will end up being the best fantasy start from week to week. While it’s a great move from a football perspective for the Eagles, this was probably one of the worst landing spots for Howard in terms of his fantasy value. I truly believe 500 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns would be his ceiling, which wouldn’t make him any more than a desperation flex option on any given week.
I think Daniel Simpkins is being too Draconian by saying Howard's ceiling is 500 yards, but I agree with the spirit of his analysis. Ryan Mathews led the team in 2016 with 661 yards on 155 attempts, LeGarrette Blount led with 766 yards on 173 carries, and last year Josh Adams -- a former practice-squader -- led the team with 511 yards. It's hard to argue the Eagles aren't going to put every running back on the roster into a fantasy-unfriendly committee. If the Eagles don't draft anyone to compete, I think Howard would be slotted for 10-12 carries per game and almost no receiving targets. That would equate to about 700 yards at the midpoint. But don't look at the Howard acquisition and assume the team is done upgrading.
The Eagles are already a mess of a backfield in terms of distribution of work from week to week and (especially) the ultimate upside of any single back. I see Howard in the Jay Ajayi role at his peak from 2018 for the Eagles. Unfortunately, that is likely a matchup-centric RB2 at best for fantasy projection purposes and more like a flex option for good fantasy rosters.
The Bears clearly need to add another interior runner to the mix. Tarik Cohen is not suited for interior work and Mike Davis hasn’t been able to stay healthy when given an increased workload. My expectation is that a back will be added late in the Draft or as an afterthought free agency signing. The Bears don’t have a pick until round three, and they have more pressing needs at safety, cornerback, EDGE, and offensive line. I could see them taking a shot at running back with their fourth-round (126) or fifth-round (162) choice at the earliest. The good thing is, there are some guys that might be available late (David Montgomery, Benny Snell, Mike Weber, Elijah Holyfield, Dexter Williams, and Alex Barnes come to mind) who are close to Howard’s size and might be able to approximate his role from the get-go. Also, there are guys out there on the market like T.J. Yeldon who could be added affordably on one or two-year deals. If I were Ryan Pace, that would be the avenue I would pursue so that I could concentrate on taking stabs at other positions in the Draft.
It's hard to imagine the Bears feeling secure in that duo. Cohen had an effective sophomore season (1,169 yards from scrimmage, 8 touchdowns) but he ran the ball fewer than 100 times and isn't built for a heavier workload. As Daniel Simpkins said, Mike Davis is talented but oft-injured so it's logical he'll be part of a committee versus a bellcow. The Bears will almost assuredly add talent in the draft, but given other needs, I don't think they'll target running back early. Just because they wait on the position doesn't mean the rookie won't have value. Jordan Howard was a 5th rounder and ran for more than 1,300 yards as a rookie.
I agree with Daniel and Jason. I am expecting a third- or fourth-round pick to be used at the position. With Benny Cunningham signing in Jacksonville, the depth at the position is low enough for the Bears that it must be addressed. The lack of other urgent needs for Chicago should enable the team to use a valuable pick on the position.
I am a big Ryan Nall fan, so he is my dark-horse to track on the Bears rosters down the dial at running back. I would not be surprised to see Chicago go with a mid-round option (Rounds 3-5) in the draft as a supplement. Cohen would be the fantasy option I would want from the group if status quo by Week 1.
3. With the retirement of Rob Gronkowski, who do you expect the Patriots' starter to be at the position, a player currently on the roster or a rookie?
I expect that the Patriots will look to the Draft to fill this need long-term. This class is too loaded at tight end and the need is glaring. The biggest question for me is if they will take an early option like T.J. Hockenson or Noah Fant or if they will instead wait and grab a guy that will go outside the first round like Irv Smith or Dawson Knox. Assuming Belichick doesn’t revamp the offense significantly as he did when the team lost Aaron Hernandez, this player will be someone they see as both a good receiving option and willing blocker. They’ve picked up Stephen Anderson and Matt LaCosse, both options who have had playing experience with other teams. They’ve also been developing Jacob Hollister for the past two years. If the player they draft isn’t immediately ready to step in, they’ve got stopgap options in those three players.
There is no replacing Rob Gronkowski. Let's not forget Bill Belichick is the most versatile, adaptable mind in coaching and he's more likely to alter the offense away from the tight end than he is to find a rookie who personifies what a healthy Rob Gronkowski brought in his prime. As it happens, this rookie tight end class is the best in a generation, so it's possible the team may prioritize a rookie early in the draft, but I would expect that to be more of a 2020 and beyond contributor than a fantasy asset in 2019.
My heart wants the answer to be Jacob Hollister, but Matt LaCosse was a savvy signing by the Patriots and I would expect at least one tight end in the top-100 to be drafted, if not a Ravens-like two tight ends of significance. Also, the Patriots might just pivot their offensive focus again to adding a pass-catching running back into a greater role (like James White or Rex Burkhead split out more often) or use dual slot receivers with Bruce Ellington added to Julian Edelman as short-range options.
4. After the Odell Beckham Jr trade, and signing of Golden Tate, do you expect either Tate or Sterling Shepard to be fantasy WR2 candidates this season? If so, how do you factor in the quarterback position?
No, as things currently stand, I do not see either as a fantasy WR2, even with the volume they are likely to receive with Beckham Jr.’s vacated targets. I found the Tate signing odd because he has essentially played the same role as Sterling Shepard on his old teams. How will they deploy two guys at the same time that do their best work near the line of scrimmage? The best thing that could happen to possibly change the outcome of this season for the Giants is that they find a way to get the Josh Rosen deal done and that he steps in sooner rather than later.
The Giants are a conundrum. Many expected the Giants to embark on a wholesale rebuilding project, and the Olivier Vernon and Odell Beckham Jr trades supported that notion. But keeping Eli Manning and then signing Golden Tate to a multi-year deal argue against rebuilding. This is a listless franchise. Regardless of the team's direction, it's clear Golden Tate is both the best receiver on the roster and a fraction of what Odell Beckham Jr brought to the huddle. Tate didn't acquit himself well in his part-time duties in Philadelphia, but it's unfair to judge him on a mid-season team change. Tate will have an entire offseason to learn the Giants playbook and build rapport with Manning. I expect Tate will have value, as he always does, in point-per-reception (PPR) formats but would ideally draft him as a No. 3 versus a No. 2. Shepard doesn't interest me as a starter but remains worthy of rostering particularly if injuries force him into a target-heavy game script.
I am an Eli Manning supporter compared to the consensus, so I view the Giants as better off than many of the hand-wringing 'they should have drafted a quarterback instead of Saquon Barkley' crowd. That said, the upside for the top receiver is likely in the WR25-40 range with Barkley and Evan Engram strong options at their respective positions. Both Shepard and Tate are better ancillary options than go-to dominant leading receivers. I would expect both in the WR3/4/flex weekly conversation come the regular season.
5. With the NFL Draft quickly approaching, who are some players you are definitely targeting without regard for landing spot?
This class is one that I feel has very few players that have the talent to thrive in any system in which you place them. Landing spot is usually key, but it’s going to be increasingly important with this group. I don’t see any of the quarterbacks, running backs, or wide receivers as transcendent talents that are destined to succeed no matter the system fit. Of the tight ends, perhaps only T.J. Hockenson would make this list for me. He’s a very complete prospect and it would take a severe injury or a very inept coaching staff to mess things up for him.
In terms of players I just really, really like out of this class, let me give you one each from the other skill positions.
At quarterback, I really have come to appreciate Brett Rypien’s game. He’s not the athlete that Kyler Murray is. He doesn’t possess the arm talent of Tyree Jackson. He doesn’t have the height of Drew Lock. He may even go undrafted because NFL decision-makers don’t like his small hands and non-prototypical height and weight. Yet in Rypien I see a quarterback that has outstanding football intelligence and accuracy at all three levels of the field. It’s going to take just the right fit for Rypien to be NFL relevant. Yet if opportunity ever knocks, I think Rypien has what it takes to answer the door.
I would not classify him as the best in this class, but Marquise Brown is extremely fun to watch and would be impactful with the right landing spot. The cousin of Antonio Brown, Marquise has the ability to play inside or outside and is legitimately a threat to score from anywhere on the field. He’s truly got a special gear that gets him separation from defenders both in routes and in the open field. If he becomes a better route runner, he’ll be that much more dangerous. Imagine how much fun he would be in an offense like New England or New Orleans, where the quarterbacks can put the ball on him with hyper-accuracy. Without Brown having to make an adjustment to the ball, he would have a better chance to take it to the house.
Alex Barnes is a player I don’t feel completely confident will be drafted. However, if NFL decision-makers surprise me and take him earlier than I expect, I would be extremely interested. His metrics at the Combine were impressive and better than anticipated. He wasn’t asked to do much pass-catching work at Kansas State, but he demonstrated aptitude in that area when he did get to catch the ball. His contact balance and surprising hip wiggle for a bigger back continue to catch my eye. Though he’s by no means the best back in this class, he’s the one I had the most fun watching and one of the underdogs of this class for whom I’ll be cheering.
No one. This class isn't full of can't miss players, and I think we're seeing that scheme is more important than ever. That's not to say there aren't players I'm excited by, but I must see where they land before locking them in.
I fall somewhere in between Daniel and Jason. There are players like D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown who could be special but will need to fall into the right situation to reach their respective potentials. The tight end class is stronger than most expect. Yes, there is discussion around Fant and Hockenson, but there are three or four more that have a shot at TE1 fantasy status.
N'Keal Harry: Checks every box
A.J. Brown: Checks every box, I do not care if he goes Round 2
Noah Fant: Such a rare metric prospect
Justice Hill: THE sub-sized running back prospect this year
Alex Barnes: Love the size-movement-receiving combination
Alexander Mattison: Trust the tape and high-floor profile
6. Who are some players you will be closely watching to see if they land in a great situation, but believe the upside is very high if so?
I’ve already mentioned Marquise Brown. A.J. Brown is currently on top of my rookie receiver board based on skill alone. His stride variation, route running, and ball-tracking ability are second to none in this class. If he lands with a contending team, I’ll be very excited to see what he can do, even in year one.
Noah Fant reminds me a great deal of Evan Engram in that he is not really an ideal blocker, but he is a superb receiver. As long as the team drafting him understands that truth, I see his fantasy upside being very high.
Miles Sanders needs a team fit where they don’t lean on him immediately but allow his game to grow. He has the physical tools and the processing speed to be successful, but he’s going to need to get a better feel for the position, particularly in terms of learning to be more decisive with his cuts. He strikes me as a runner that needs more experience before he can reach his true potential. Yet the ceiling is quite high if he gets the needed time to develop and he takes advantage of this patient approach by putting in the work and getting the practice repetitions he needs to gain an understanding of how decisive you need to be in order to be successful in the NFL.
The running backs this year are a collection of less-than-perfect prospects, and the situation will be viewed as beauty-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder. I could see Josh Jacobs, David Montgomery, Darrell Henderson, Rodney Anderson, Devin Singletary, and even Justice Hill as high priorities if they land on a team with an obvious need at the position and a system that suits their individual strengths. I could also see passing on all of them if they land in inopportune spots. The trio of elite tight ends -- Noah Fant, T.J. Hockenson, and Irv Smith Jr -- are dynasty assets worth prioritizing as long as they aren't signed by a team with an elite tight end already in their prime (think when Dallas Goedert landed in Philadelphia having to play behind Zach Ertz). Kyler Murray tops this list because I can be convinced that he'll have fantasy value if he lands in Arizona, given the system fit. If he lands anywhere else, I want no part of him.
Even though the running back position is devalued, we – in the fantasy world – have too quickly forgotten how situation-dependent the position has become. Would Ezekiel Elliott put up the same numbers in Houston? This same logic is why many are discounting Le'Veon Bell now with the Jets. So, if this is true, then we must take our preferences and put them in “wait-and-see” mode until after the draft. I see several of the running-back class at a similar level so waiting for landing spots is the best course of action.
I under-react to situation in the NFL Draft (Alvin Kamara was a notable recent exception, but I loved him as a prospect pre-draft anyway) and focus more on draft position than landing spot. The cream rises to the top and will find a way - like Nick Chubb's rise essentially making a healthy Carlos Hyde irrelevant on the Browns roster last year by mid-season. I root for players I do not like as prospect to go to strong landing spots or early opportunity (Ronald Jones is a good example last year) so I can get a better deal on talents who appear blocked early on and will slip in drafts as a result (James Conner is a good example).