This lull in the NFL schedule is a good time to step back and take the 30,000 foot view of offenses around the league. This is a valuable exercise because it represents the fertility of the soil that you will plan your draft pick seeds in at your drafts. I have unscientifically rated every team's QB, RB corps, WR/TE as passing targets, OL, OC quality, and potential for game scripts to go offense heavy. Since everything intersects at the quarterback, I've given that factor three times the weight of the others. Don't get too hung up on my formula, individual ratings, team rankings, or rough attempt at tiers and narratives. Use this exercise to test your own assumptions about the quality of offenses.
The scale can be a great tiebreaker and a starting point for a waiver wire watch list. The reality is that merely competent players can be extremely productive in great offenses and great talents can be merely competent producers in bad offenses. There are two sides to finding successful sleeper/breakout candidates. One is determining which talents are underrated by the fantasy community. The other is identifying situations that are primed for fantasy production no matter who is plugged in. Likewise, knowing who to avoid at current ADP can hinge on detecting the stink of an overrated talent or a hopeless/precarious/unpredictable situation.
GARDENS of eden
|1||PIT||OL coming together, best dual threat RB in league and scary WR talents||4||5||4||4||4||5||34|
|2||IND||Only weak link is OL. Major supporting cast upgrades in offseason||5||3||5||2||4||5||34|
|3||GB||Rodgers playing at HoF level, RB/WR talent fits like hand in glove||5||4||5||4||3||3||34|
|4||NE||lacking deep passing game and RB talent, but team always maximizes what they have + defense weakened. Oh and Gronk||4||2||5||2||5||5||31|
These offenses can generate significant production as long as the pieces are functional. Players like DeAngelo Williams, Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates, Phillip Dorsett, Donte Moncrief, any backup Colts RB, James Starks, and Danny Amendola need to be monitored in redraft leagues, and the numbers that could come downstream if they are pressed into a larger role by injury represent a potential major profit from a late pick or waiver wire addition. All have top quarterbacks and targets that fit right in their passer's wheelhouse. A few have wretched defenses, and there's not a good to great defense among the quartet. Good fantasy rosters will likely have some distribution of players from these teams. If depth charts get depleted to the point of street free agents hitting the field, they can still produce. Break waiver wire and lineup ties in the favor of these offenses.
|5||PHI||Bradford/Sanchez good enough to turn crank on Chip's magic machine. Who will emerge as outside WR?||3||4||2||4||5||5||29|
|6||SD||Rivers still one of the best, RB/OL upgrades, Stevie Johnson sneaky addition||4||3||3||3||4||4||29|
|7||NO||Graham big shoes to fill and Brees arrow pointing down||4||4||2||4||4||3||29|
|8||DEN||OL is in shambles, but Peyton was fine before injury and Kubiak won't hurt||4||3||4||2||4||4||29|
Not quite Boardwalk, but all of these offenses have been accelerants to fantasy value and only have slightly more nagging question marks than the top tier. They're all piloted by good offensive minds and good quarterbacks except for the Eagles, who seem to have a cheat code for mediocre QB play effectiveness, with good to top-end talent at RB. Every one of these offenses provides a relatively high ceiling TE at current ADP. Not that they are without warts. Chip Kelly's itchy triggerfinger has spread to the offensive line and the passcatchers are mostly unproven, the Chargers are good everywhere, but not great anywhere, the Saints shed two top end parts of their passing game, and Peyton Manning looked really old the last time we saw him (Coming soon: Peyton and the backup offensive line play the hits!) Philip Rivers and Drew Brees also looked like father time might be catching up to them at times last year. There's a general "what if Chip's magic wears off" risk in Philly.
Still, opportunities abound for players to outperform ADP or emerge from obscurity. The Eagles passing game has supported low QB1 and WR1 numbers under Chip while feeding the running game. Rivers was near elite before entering the Bermuda Triangle in Miami last year. He could keep Gates in the top 5, get Keenan Allen into WR1 territory, make Malcom Floyd, Stevie Johnson or Ladarius Green (if they use him) relevant - even Danny Woodhead again! Brees' fantasy demise could be exaggerated, and he might elevate someone like CJ Spiller or Josh Hill with him. No one will be shocked if the Broncos offense still takes the aggressive tack they had under Adam Gase despite reports to the contrary, making Emmanuel Sanders a value WR1 and Owen Daniels a value TE1.
Like the top group, these teams should catch your attention when making waiver wire and lineup decisions. Any running back getting significant touches in these offenses has at least flex value, and three of the four have gotten production out of undrafted backs in recent years. Obscure wide receivers like Josh Huff, Nick Toon, Seantavius Jones, and Brandon Coleman are names to monitor during the summer for deep league value potential.
underestimated elite offenses?
|9||MIN||Bridgewater arrow pointing up and Peterson is back. Watch out||3||5||3||3||4||3||27|
|10||DAL||Offense lacks RB and top supporting cast talent, but OL Romo and Bryant is more than enough to fuel production||4||1||4||5||3||2||27|
|11||ATL||Shanahan should revitalize run game and Julio has his own gravitational field||4||1||4||2||4||4||27|
When the dust settles at the end of the season, any of these units could look like they had a secret supply of fantasy Miracle-Gro. There's only a small hesitation from including them among the best. With Minnesota, it's not getting too ahead of ourselves in projecting growth for Teddy Bridgewater and a bounce-back year for the line with the oomph Adrian Peterson provides. The Cowboys are completely unproven at running back but are powered by the best offensive line in the league. The Falcons are equally unproven at running back and are asking Kyle Shanahan to do his thing with more at QB and WR but much less on the offensive line than he had in Cleveland last year.
The backfields of the Cowboys and Falcons and wide receiver corps of the Vikings are good places to go fishing for players who could greatly outperform ADP in the mid to late rounds if weekly variance doesn't strike them all down. Bridgewater could also light Kyle Rudolph's fuse (if healthy), and the Falcons have room for a third receiving option who could matter a lot more if one of their wide receivers go down.
The Cowboys and Vikings could frustrate us by being content to let their backfields run over opponents when their defenses are playing well, but the Falcons looked primed for shootouts with a defense that is still very weak, at least on paper.
i want to believe
|12||NYG||OL is a question, but even without Cruz/Vereen/good running game, offense with Beckham was a handful last year||3||3||4||2||3||5||26|
|13||MIA||Offense could gel with new faces at WR/TE and Tannehill 2nd year in system. Miller overall plus in backfield. Lacking deep success||3||3||4||3||3||4||26|
|14||SEA||Graham best target of Russ era and Lynch can still ball out. Wilson rounding into form||4||5||2||3||2||2||26|
I can talk myself into this trio becoming ascendant offenses that will reward fantasy owners who invest heavily in them. The Giants have Odell Beckham and the second year in Ben McAdoo's system brewing. The Dolphins have a ton of new talent and the second year in Bill Lazor's system. The Seahawks just got the best passcatcher they've had in the Russell Wilson era. This group is a good bet to produce the offense that is the darling of the NFL three or four weeks into the season.
But to buy into them is to buy into players who have let us down at inopportune moments like Eli Manning and Ryan Tannehill. Buying into offensive lines that have been held together by bailing wire and duct tape in recent years. Buying into offenses that have struggled to establish consistency as a passing team (Seattle) or a running team (Miami/Giants).
All three quarterbacks could outproduce ADP. Lamar Miller and Jimmy Graham could flirt with first round production from third round ADP if their teams use them to their talent level. Miami has three wide receivers who could be value picks, and the Giants have two. Both have tight ends still on the upside of their careers who could emerge from the low TE1 pack.
The Giants are primed for track meets with some potential holes in the back seven of the defense and an offense that added Shane Vereen and had trouble run blocking last year. The Dolphins can play pinball on offense if they need to, but have a defense that has more shutdown potential with the addition of Ndamukong Suh to an already strong pass-rushing unit. The Seahawks have the fantasy achilles heel of a terrific running game and defense combination, but as Russell Wilson gets more experience and weapons, that make up could change a bit.
ifs, buts, and maybes
|15||ARI||With improved QB health, vertical passing should blossom. Ellington could have big year if he resumes rookie form||3||3||3||3||3||4||25|
|16||BAL||Big holes at WR and TE, but Trestman inheriting rest of successful unit from 2014||3||3||2||4||4||3||25|
|17||CHI||Gase should push the issue. Talent at RB/WR, but Cutler could be critical point of failure||2||4||4||3||3||4||24|
|18||TB||Winston could elevate offense with big targets, but will OL and run game do enough for him?||3||2||4||3||3||3||24|
|19||CIN||Can beat up bad teams/offenses, but can also shrink with Dalton. WR/TE health will help and RBs will remain central to gameplan||2||4||4||4||3||2||23|
|20||DET||Calvin creates space, OL should be improved especially in run game. Stafford more brakes than accelerator at times||3||3||4||3||2||2||23|
I don't mind rostering top players from these offenses, and there's a line for any of them to be among top 10-12 offenses in the league, but realism should temper expectations. The Cardinals running game still can't get the engine to turn over, and the offensive line is a work in progress, albeit one showing progress. A QB collapse is also big in the rear view mirror. The Ravens are putting a ton on the shoulders of Steve Smith and Justin Forsett. Jay Cutler is about seven feet out on an eight-foot plank, with Jimmy Clausen in waiting. The Bucs are hanging their hat on a rookie quarterback and dollar store offensive line. The Bengals still have Andy Dalton, and the Lions offense was trending in the wrong direction last year, even with Calvin Johnson.
There is potential for these units to surprise. A healthy Carson Palmer could fuel a vertical passing game that opens up lanes for the running game. The Ravens could get big contributions from currently unproven skill players. The Bears have a scary good WR/TE group and the Bucs' wide receiver duo can match theirs. The Bengals endured a ton of WR/TE lost games last year, and Matthew Stafford could get out of his slump in his second year under Joe Lombardi.
I'm mostly neutral to players on these teams with respect to how the quality of their offense affects my mindset when I'm on the clock. While I grasp the reasons that offenses could click beyond our expectations, the ADPs of players like Mike Evans, Jeremy Hill, Andre Ellington, Justin Forsett, Ameer Abdullah, Golden Tate, and Alshon Jeffery among others reflect mild optimism. With the glaring exception of Forsett last year, I would still bet on these offenses not being efficient or dangerous enough to turn middling talents into consistently productive fantasy options. The Bears are an admittedly tough group to solve with the potential for being in shootouts to cover up a barely viable defense, but also the potential for reignition of a dumpsterfire that we saw in full blaze last year.
room to grow
|21||NYJ||QB suboptimal, but aggressive-minded with resourceful OC and quality WR. RB talent underrated||2||2||4||3||4||3||22|
|22||KC||Stunted by Alex Smith and meek downfield-throwing, but Charles and Kelce are top-end weapons. Could surprise with Maclin addition||2||5||3||2||3||2||21|
Neither of these offenses inspire any fear in opponents, but things could change in 2015. The Jets added Chan Gailey and Brandon Marshall. The Chiefs added Jeremy Maclin and are ready to unleash Travis Kelce. It's difficult to picture either one among the top ten, but envisioning a 2015 that allows players like Marshall, Maclin, Kelce, Eric Decker, or Chris Ivory to be good picks at mostly depressed ADPs is not. Alex Smith and the Jets QB should also have some streaming appeal.
curse of the running qb?
|23||CAR||Newton still has holes as a passer, OL questionable. A lot riding on Stewart health, Benjamin growth||3||3||3||2||1||2||20|
|24||SF||Kaepernick legs, Smith speed should add dimension, but team feels precarious with offseason changes||2||3||3||3||1||3||19|
|25||WAS||Gruden will keep them viable no matter how/who of QB, but low ceiling||1||3||3||4||3||3||19|
These offenses feel like they *should* be better, but they are only experiencing success in fits and starts and can't really challenge good defenses, that is, when they aren't shooting themselves in the foot. Expecting any of these offenses to be more than they were last year is probably going to be foolish, but stranger things have happened.
Carlos Hyde and Alfred Morris have a one-dimensional involvement in the offense and could be torpedoed when their team falls behind or can't put good drives together. Kelvin Benjamin benefited from garbage time scores last year, which is never something you want to count on. None of these players strike me as foundational in your lineup and not deserving of picks at current ADP. Jonathan Stewart, Greg Olsen, DeSean Jackson, Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and Pierre Garcon have shown more reasons in the past to believe they can navigate stormy seas to production, but their ceilings are limited by the nature of their offenses. Sleepers will have trouble taking root in these offenses, and all of them are prone to multigame stretches of futility that will cause you to lose confidence in their components.
these are not the offenses you are looking for
|26||STL||Foles Cignetti improvements by default? OL shaky and run game will be feast or famine depending on game script||2||4||2||2||1||2||17|
|27||HOU||Hope for functional QB play at best. A lot on Hopkins and Foster's shoulders||1||4||2||4||2||2||17|
|28||BUF||Supporting cast is good, but QB play limits passing game, OL big question. Gameplan will likely lack imagination||1||4||4||2||2||1||16|
|29||OAK||Carr no sure thing to take step forward. Cooper/Crabtree upgrades, but overall talent underwhelming||1||2||2||3||2||3||15|
|30||CLE||QB huge question and worst WR/TE in the league. At least the OL is good||1||2||1||5||1||2||14|
|31||JAX||Robinson could break out, Julius Thomas added, but will emphasize run and overall will be as good as Bortles allows them to be||1||2||2||2||1||2||12|
|32||TEN||Little to hang your hat on here. OL should be a plus and losing game scripts should open up pass offense||1||1||2||2||1||3||12|
These offenses might throttle the value out of players who could be consistently productive in a better setting. The sign going into this tunnel says "Proceed with Caution", but it could flash and transform into "Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter" at any moment. It's no concidence that this is the QB hell tier, although St. Louis, Oakland, Jacksonville, and Tennessee have some space to pleasantly surprise us at QB - mostly because of low expectations.
The fantasy puzzles here are smaller in number, but more difficult to decipher. Do you take Todd Gurley for the second half surge? or Tre Mason being overlooked despite a likely big load early? or avoid the whole thing because the Rams can stall out badly in any given week? Can DeAndre Hopkins produce WR1 numbers with a poor supporting cast and barely adequate QB? Will Arian Foster stay healthy enough to justify a premium pick? Can LeSean McCoy play better than he did in 2014 in a worse setting? Will Duke Johnson, TJ Yeldon, Amari Cooper, David Cobb, and Dorial Green-Beckham defy their surroundings to become fantasy mainstays?
That list doesn't even bring up names like Bishop Sankey, Justin Hunter, Isaiah Crowell, Latavius Murray, Sammy Watkins, Michael Crabtree, and Julius Thomas, who as a group promise more disappointment than joy this season.
The reality is that the choppy execution and danger of crashing into a ditch in any given week give all of the players in these offenses a smaller margin of error. The threshold of "competence" that backups have to exceed to create fantasy relevance is higher. The level of confidence in the player's production from week to week may be nauseating, and that should translate when you're on the clock and considering them.
I'm not saying to swear off players from these teams or avoid waiver wire investments, but to ignore the growth-stunting nature of their surroundings is to ignore one of the factors that is most likely to create outcomes outside of the conventional wisdom range of possibilities - both good and bad.
Drafting is as simple as finding the players who will outproduce what you pay for them and avoiding the players who will underproduce what you pay for them. Correctly weighting the role that the surrounding offense plays in that equation is something we all do intuitively, but it is also valuable to look at the greater entity to help us draw the map to fantasy feast and away from fantasy famine.