Aug 07

2016 NFL Value Plays: Antonio Gates

Expect Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates to work hard to send the veteran TE off into the sunset with a milestone (Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images).

Expect Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates to work hard to send the veteran TE off into the sunset with a milestone (Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images).

A year ago at this time, I was off the Antonio Gates bandwagon. He was aging (then 35) and had Ladarius Green starting over his shoulder. What was there to like?

Well, I suppose the answer laid in his red zone skills and rapport with Chargers QB Philip Rivers. Gates wasn’t right for much of the season, slowed by a foot injury while on the field and ultimately missing five games. Still, in the 11 he played he made 56 receptions for 630 yards and scored five times. He finished as TE 11 despite missing more than 30% of the season.

Heading into the 2016 season, others have joined me on the anti-Gates bandwagon. And, because the masses are there… a value buy opportunity presents itself.

Gates is currently coming off the board as TE13 at pick 123 overall – having never finished worse than TE13 in his entire career. I get it, Gates is 36 years old and isn’t getting any faster –  but he’s still able to use his body to create separation and remains a significant red zone presence.

With Green out of town Stevie Johnson going down, Gates’ role in the offense should not be any less significant this year. When in the lineup, he averaged more than eight targets per game in 2015. Beyond that, Gates is chasing a milestone this year and I share the perspective held by the folks at Rotoworld that his QB and his coaching staff will do what they can to help him achieve it:

rotoworld-gates

Maybe its foolish to base one’s fantasy projections on a player chasing a milestone, but with either a new stadium to angle for or a move to LA to build hype around the Chargers may find themselves playing for ‘good news’ stories in the second half of the season and this would certainly be one of them.

He comes into this year’s campaign healthy and while you’ll undoubtedly be reviewing the injury reports on occasion if you draft Gates, you have to assume that he’ll be effective from jump when on the field. If you’re not going to be going after one of the top-four TEs, let others spend on mid-rounders at the position and take the veteran in the cheap rounds.

After all, even with injuries and ailments last season, Gates scored 8.45 FPPG a year ago – enough to be a top-6 scorer at his position in a full season.

Aug 04

2016 NFL Value Plays: Isaiah Crowell

Isaiah Crowell benefits just as much as Duke Johnson from the arrival of Hue Jackson, and he's getting none of the boost (Photo: (Joshua Gunter/cleveland.com).

Isaiah Crowell benefits just as much as Duke Johnson from the arrival of Hue Jackson, and he’s getting none of the boost (Photo: (Joshua Gunter/cleveland.com).

It’s a new year in Ohio and 2016 brings with it lots of change, most notably new Browns Head Coach Hue Jackson’s journey up the I-71 to join his new team. Always slated to be a run first group, Jackson certainly brings that mindset to the team’s offense this year. That’s good news for both of the team’s backs, including third year RB Isaiah Crowell.

Of course, the 2015 Browns had designs on being a ball control offense and managed to rank just 27th in rush attempts (and 22nd in yards) but with some overall improvement in the talent on both sides of the ball the expectation is that Cleveland can plan to run early and try to run often this year. Again, one thing is clear from Hue Jackson’s tenure: his teams like to run the football. Over the past two seasons in Cincinnati, the Bengals averaged 480 rush attempts. Cleveland might not get there this year, but there should still be plenty of carries to go around.

Most gamers are excited about what that means for 2015 rookie Duke Johnson. Indeed, they should be. Johnson flashed a dynamic skill set in his first year and has demonstrated an ability to be productive as a pass catcher both out of the backfield and in non-traditional alignments. We’re expecting more of the same in 2016.

But, because of the excitement around Johnson (and some bad press around the Crowell) we’re ignoring backfield-mate Isaiah Crowell. Crowell currently carries an ADP of RB43 despite finishing 2015 as the league’s 28th highest scorer at his position and an overall rosier outlook for the team’s offense this year.

In Cincinnati, both Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard were productive fantasy options with Jackson at the helm of the offense. In Cleveland, Crowell gets no love. Can an argument be made that the talent gap between Bernard and Hill was more narrow than that between Johnson and Bernard? Absolutely. Should I point out that the Cleveland offense isn’t expected to measure up to the Bengals; and that the Browns are likely to turn to passing situations later in games favouring Johnson? Yes. I did. Would you be foolish to ignore Crowell all the same? I certainly think so.

Last year, Gio played 55% of the team’s offensive snaps snaps and had 12.7 touches/game compared to Hill’s 43.3% and 15.9. Again, even if those proportions shift more in favour of Johnson in Cincinatti, there is room to improve on a 706 yard 3.8 YPC performance for Crowell this year. One factor in favour of a rebound in YPC (he averaged a tolerable 4.1 in his rookie season) is the presence of Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman on the outside. At this point, no one is suggesting that Robert Griffin III throwing the ball to that duo is going to turn Cleveland into one of the league’s premiere offenses, but the group should do enough to keep opposing defenses honest against the run.

Where the numbers logically shift toward the bigger bodied, early down back in Jackson’s system are inside the red zone. A year ago, Jeremy Hill had 76.5% of his team’s rush attempts inside the five yeard line, producing eight scores on those 13 attempts. Bernard had just three carries, and didn’t score. Those 13 carries from close range were the 4th highest in the NFL.

The numbers flatten out a bit when accounting for work inside the 20 overall, with Hill holding a slight 36-30 edge, but TDs are where the fantasy money is made and Hill had every opportunity to score a year ago. By comparison, Crowell had 29 carries inside the 20 and six inside the five (in fairness, those six carries represent 75% of Cleveland’s total rush attempts from short-distance). A few more opportunities and a continued lion’s share of the goal line work should mean more chances to find paydirt in 2016.

Overall, things are trending up for Crowell. He finished at RB28 a year ago with easy-to-repeat numbers and he’s being drafted as RB43. His offense has a history of producing fantasy relevant backs and focusing on the run, the offense should be improved in general, and he’s a good bet to get the goal line work no matter how things shake out between the 20s. Crowell won’t win you your league on his own, but he’ll provide a solid return in the late rounds and should play very well as a virtually no-cost FLEX.

Jul 27

2016 NFL Value Plays: Matthew Stafford

To be sure, the Detroit Lions offense will look different this year... but that's not all bad news for Matthew Stafford (Photo: Mark Cunningham / Getty Images).

To be sure, the Detroit Lions offense will look different this year… but that’s not all bad news for Matthew Stafford (Photo: Mark Cunningham / Getty Images).

Heading into 2016 Matthew Stafford stands alone as the face of the Detroit Lions offense. After spending his entire career in a battery with Calvin Johnson, the star receiver’s retirement has many asking questions about the Leo’s offensive prospects… and has many overlooking a potential bargain on draft day in Matthew Stafford.

I rank Stafford three spots ahead of his current Fantasy Pros ADP and as draft day approaches, I may be compelled to go higher and my reasons are fairly simple: bad press and bad vibes (no more Megatron) often present the best buying opportunity on draft day; Stafford had an up and down season last year and still finished as the 9th best scorer at his position (bonus discussion, Jim Bob Cooter) and Johnson’s departure may actually turn out to be a good thing for the team’s offensive prospects.

On the whole, Stafford had a great season in 2015 by his own standards. His 67.2% completion percentage was the best of his career by a wide margin, while his 32 touchdowns and 13 interceptions were the 2nd best marks of his career. Those marks are overlooked by the impression of an uneven offense, and the team’s 7-9 record after finishing as a 2014 playoff team… but we’re just paying for raw numbers in fantasy.

And yet, he’s being overlooked. Last year’s QB9 is being drafted by ADP as this year’s QB17. Largely that’s given concern over Calvin Johnson‘s departure… after all, he’s taking 88 receptions and 1214 yards (with 9 scores) with him into the sunset… but, the 2015 version of Johnson wasn’t as big of an asset as his name suggests. Johnson played in 16 games a year ago, but was an infrequent practice participant and a regular game time decision. For a player of his talent, there was no question he was going to be in the lineup if ready to go… but in terms of a QB’s practice reps and preparedness, that type of indecision could not have helped – particularly as the team struggled to find its offensive identity in the early going. When on the field, Johnson demands attention of opposing defenses (and admittedly, there isn’t anyone who will draw certain double coverage this year).

Moreover, he demands attention from his QB. Stafford threw 149 balls in Johnson’s direction last year, making him the 9th most targeted receiver in the league, however, he completed just 62% of the passes he threw in his direction. A solid total for a tandem that averaged 13.8 yards per completion, but it’s far shy of his connection rate with Golden Tate (70.3%) and the rest of his Lions’ teammates. Be it for reasons of his own decline/injury, extra defensive attention or any combination of factors there is some reason to believe that those 150 targets distributed among the rest of the team may wind up as more efficient.

After all, talent remains. While the combination of Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin (with T.J. Jones expected as a 4th option and the team hopeful that Eric Ebron can come into his own this year) operating as the team’s top-three threats at receiver there is a player available for every route and each can create opportunities in the right matchups.

If you’re not buying that argument, I’ll understand. After all, it’s hard to argue for growth when a QB loses an all time great at receiver… All I’m trying to say is that it won’t be as much worse as current ADP suggests, and that 1,200 yards and nine scores isn’t all that hard to replace on 150 pass attempts.  Here’s an argument you can’t ignore: Stafford and his Detroit teammates were an excellent offense after the switch to Jim Bob Cooter at Offensive Coordinator. Stafford threw 20 TDs against just four picks from Week 8 onwards, completing 69% of his passes during that span. On a per game basis, he was fantasy’s 6th best QB during that span, averaging 20.2 FPPG. Johnson (71 YPG and six scores) certainly contributed during that nine game stretch, but he wasn’t the whole story.

For his part, Stafford is looking forward to working with Cooter again this season, per the Detroit news:

“We just see (football) the same way, talk about it the same way and that’s not to say we like the same stuff all the time,” Stafford said of Cooter. “He likes some stuff that I’m not comfortable with, and I’m comfortable with some stuff that he doesn’t like, and that’s the way it goes. You pick your battles and go from there.”

For Stafford, being comfortable in the offense could help offset the loss of wide receiver Calvin Johnson in 2016.

Stafford lauded Cooter and the other offensive coaches for how they implemented the new offense last year, avoiding a massive overhaul in one week. The quarterback also said his teammates did well to learn the new plays, which was clear as the team went 6-2 in the second half of the season after a 1-7 start.

While it was a focus in 2015, efficiency won’t necessarily be the name of the game in Cooter’s 2016 offense. In fact, it seems that the team is willing to expand its offensive approach as he enters his first full season at the helm. With Stafford, that isn’t necessarily a good thing as the completion percentage and interceptions could take an about-face turn in a hurry. That said, the willingness to take shots shouldn’t hurt his fantasy profile.

In any event, Stafford’s improved play under Cooter’s tutelage was no coincidence in 2015 and at his current 12th/13th round ADP it won’t cost you very much to take a chance.

Jul 24

2016 NFL Rankings Preseason (Pre-Camp)

Like many, Antonio Brown leads our 2016 NFL Rankings (Photo: Jared Wickerham / Getty Images)

At long last – probably more so for me, than for you if we’re being honest – our 2016 preseason rankings are available.

While 2015 draft accuracy numbers aren’t available, the folks at Fantasy Pros would tell you that I can rank a running back and wide receiver pretty darn well… and… better than I can a Quarterback. With that dispensed of, you’ll find the ranks below and a discussion of where some of my ranks have a significant gap from ECR below that. Any questions, as always, fire away.

 

2016 Fantasy Football Rankings powered by FantasyPros

  • I have Jarvis Landry 19 spots ahead of overall ECR and 10 spots ahead of WR ECR at WR13. I know there are many concerns around the receiver depth in Miami, and about individual players’ integration into a new offense. That said, Landry finished just outside the top-12 receivers last year on what was then a crowded receiver depth chart. Moreover, he did so while scoring just 4 receiving TDs (adding one as a rusher) so it isn’t as if his TD ratio is way out of whack for a player of his size and skill set. He’ll be playing on the outside more often in Adam Gase’s offense, but I’d still expect a lot of quick, underneath routes making him a preferred option for the noodle-armed Ryan Tannehill. His catches may come down a bit, but his YPR should go up leading to another strong output in an offense that is expected to improve overall.
  • I rank Isaiah Crowell 33 spots ahead of overall ECR and 10 spots ahead of his RB40 ECR. I’m as excited about Duke Johnson in Hue Jackson’s offense as anyone, but if we’ve learned anything from his last two seasons in Cincinnati it’s that Jackson can find a way to make two backs successful. Is Crowell on Jeremy Hill‘s level? Probably not, but Jackson’s Bengals offense averaged 480 rush attempts over the last two seasons. Cleveland’s overall offensive production is expected to be lower than Cincy’s, so they’ll run fewer plays… but, still project to be among the lead leaders in carries. 200+ totes seem like a lock for the 3rd year back. There isn’t really anyone around him with that as a guarantee (save maybe the aging Frank Gore) so I’ll take the projected volume and goal line work quite happily as my RB3 or 4.
  • I have Ladarius Green at TE7 and would like to go higher. Sure, I’m buying into the hype that never seemed to materialize in San Diego… and the fact that he couldn’t leapfrog an aging, lead-footed Antonio Gates is somewhat concerning… but, the athleticism has always been there and the opportunity is now in front of him. With Martavis Bryant suspended and just Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coates competing for after-Brown targets, there is a lot of room for Green to make an impact with the Steelers. Heath Miller averaged 88 targets over the last four seasons, and with a career 14.1 YPR and 4.56-40 speed, Green can do a lot of damage with that volume. The rank needs an obvious adjustment if his recovery from ankle surgery affects his availability for camp and the start of the season, but right now the Steelers don’t seem worried and neither am I.
  • On the flip side at TE, I’m down 6 spots for Gary Barnidge relative to the crowd, and it’s because I’m simply not buying the 30-year-old breakout season as something sustainable. He’s done it once, and as noted above has a new Head Coach that should trend run heavy. Concerns at QB linger, Corey Coleman will demand his share of the targets, and Barnidge simply isn’t a guy you’re going to build your team around. Last year, he had roughly 25% of the team’s receiving yards and caught 9 of 20 passing TDs… with the volume expected to come down overall and more talent around him his 2015 numbers simply aren’t sustainable. If you want to hear that rant in audio form, I went on record with Fantasy Pros to discuss Barnidge (and Eric Decker).

Jun 26

The slow road back..

We’ve just recovered from a major “site-compromise” issue and are looking forward to getting back to business and preparing for the upcoming NFL season.

Bear with us while we tidy up a little, and stay tuned for more innovative content taking you inside the locker room.