Aug 27

NFL 2016 Dynasty Draft Review: Finding Value in the Late Rounds

Early this week, I participated in my first dynasty draft of the year. Today, I’ll share the results with room for discussion, analysis and ridicule.

Admittedly, it’s a bit of a challenge to understand draft strategy in a specific league context given that a multitude of roster; scoring; and personal settings factor in to each selection.

That said, this forum provides me the opportunity to talk about the players that I’ve selected and what my short and long-term view of each is. Treat the piece that way, if you like.

For those more curious, some context: my team heavy is heavy on WR/TE talent and though I needed a little help at QB in this Super-Flex league I drafted last year with the express hope to pick up RB help in this year’s draft. I finished in second place and was slotted to draft 11/12 in each round.

Laquon Treadwell was among the best receivers in this year's draft and profiles as teh best dynasty option at the position (Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

Laquon Treadwell was among the best receivers in this year’s draft and profiles as teh best dynasty option at the position (Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

Round 1
1. Ezekiel Elliott
2. Laquon Treadwell
3. Michael Thomas
4. Corey Coleman
5. Derrick Henry
6. Will Fuller
7. Josh Doctson
8. Sterling Shepard
9. Tyler Boyd
10. DeAndre Washington
11. Devontae Booker
12. Deion Jones

Round one was the first of two rounds in which I had multiple picks – having traded up to #2 overall hoping I could wheel that into Ezekiel Elliott to solve my needs at RB. Alas, that didn’t happen, and I was left to choose between three seemingly equal candidates at WR – Lacquon Treadwell, Corey Coleman and Sterling Shepard. Treadwell has been ahead of the group in most dynasty ranks all preseason, despite limited production on the field and a concern about Teddy Bridgewater’s ability to throw the deep ball. Treadwell is straightline slow (4.65-40) but has the route running ability to make an impact in the vertical game.

Well equipped at WR, however, I’m willing to wait for them both to develop. In redraft leagues, I’d take Coleman and Shepard (in that order) ahead of Treadwell, but the Vikings have a clear need at WR and the Norv Turner offense is one that can produce a productive deep game. I expect Treadwell to start the season fairly low in the rotation and earn his way up over time. As the 6’2″, 215lb first round selection grows into the NFL game he has a legit chance to be a star in Minnesota and a redzone threat as well, after catching 82 balls and 11 scores last year at Mississippi.

Meantime, my need at RB was more immediate. With Elliot and Henry off the board before my next selection, it came down to Devontae Booker and Paul Perkins for me. Both are an injury away from big-time snaps, and while Perkins plays behind an aging veteran, there has been too much positive buzz around Booker this offseason to ignore. He’s already moved ahead of Ronnie Hillman on the Broncos’ depth chart and is an excellent handcuff in the short-term for a Denver attack that will trend significantly toward the run in 2016 and beyond. Anderson has done plenty to suggest he warrants his role as an every down back in Denver, but at this time last year he was locked in a dead-heat competition with Hillman to be the team’s lead back. He was able to hold off limited talent – but I’m not convinced that the former undrafted back has the chops to hold the job long term. Anderson just signed a four year deal heading into this season, but with just 10 million guaranteed it doesn’t really marry the team to him beyond 2017.

Round 2
1. Tajae Sharpe
2. C.J. Prosise
3. Robert Griffin III
4. Paul Perkins
5. Kenneth Dixon
6. Jared Goff
7. Keith Marshall
8. Carson Wentz
9. Leonte Carroo
10. Dak Prescott
11. Kenyan Drake
12. Jordan Howard

Round 3
1. Clive Walford
2. Torrey Smith
3. Josh Ferguson
4. Paxton Lynch
5. Malcolm Mitchell
6. Pharoah Cooper
7. Brian Quick
8. Sammie Coates
9. Bruce Ellington
10. Wendell Smallwood
11. Braxton Miller
12. Charles Clay

With 23 selections between my first and third round picks, the closet was quickly becoming bare. I’d hoped to see one of the QBs survive to this point, but with the hype around Dak Prescott building it wasn’t happening. So, I took a QB turned receiver in Houston instead.

I’m not totally ready to give up on Jaelen Strong and with a quality camp, Will Fuller clearly slots in ahead of Miller but the 3rd round pick out of Ohio State has an opportunity to step into a number three role right away. In any event, he won’t be starting in front of anyone in my strong receiver corps, but the early word out of Houston is that Miller has shown enough promise to suggest that they’ll find ways to use him now, with hopes that he’ll develop into a significant contributor at the position. Miller isn’t a pick for someone looking for immediate help at WR, but I’m not, so I’ll wait for a player with the height, weight and speed profile to excel at WR to develop as a route runner and hopefully do just that.

Round 4
1. Spencer Ware
2. Ka’Deem Carey
3. Justin Hardy
4. Dwayne Allen
5. Alex Collins
6. Morgan Burnett
7. Ty Montgomery
8. Chris Hogan
9. Jerick McKinnon
10. Denzel Perryman
11. Hunter Henry
12. Kam Chancellor

The fourth was another round with two selections for me, though I’ll admit that the returns here were a little less enticing than Round 1. Still, I actually think this was my most exciting round of the draft.

I’m intrigued by Alex Collins. Certainly, I’m more intersted in his long term prospects than Spencer Ware, Ka’Deem Carey and the others who went around him.

C.J. Prosise has ridden an early wave of interest all the way to an inflated draft stock. Meantime, he couldn’t get on the field until late in the preseason. While Prosise worked as the team’s third down back in their third preseason game, he might not be the next man up for long-term duty if Rawls goes down or proves ineffective. Collins still has some work to do to make the roster, if we’re being honest, but should he be a camp casualty he’ll land somewhere else. Collins lacks the burst of a top-end back but profiles as a guy who can handle running between the tackles well, and may find himself with some goal line work.

Thomas Rawls is locked in as the starter right now and earned that with a productive season in 2015 when he was on the field. In fact, he looks good enough that he may well be the team’s long-term answer at RB. With that, and his current position on the team’s depth chart he may not turn into anything… but the pick cost me nothing and he’s coming off a second-team All-Sec nod after a productive college career.

Hunter Henry has the athetlicism to step in as the long-term offensive replacement at TE for Antonio Gates (Photo: Sarah Bentham/Associated Press ).

Hunter Henry has the athetlicism to step in as the long-term offensive replacement at TE for Antonio Gates (Photo: Sarah Bentham/Associated Press ).

Speaking of heir’s (and keeping with an all Arkansas 4th Round for me), Ladarius Green is no longer the next man up after Antonio Gates rides off into the sunset. Instead, that man is Hunter Henry. The thinking is that Henry can get on the field a fair bit this season due to his plus skills as a blocker (particularly in the run game), and the fact that the Chargers are quite thin at WR with the loss of Stevie Johnson. Henry has both the size required to win one-on-one battles and the athleticism to get open at all three levels. Expect him to see the field regularly in support of the run game, and to earn looks by getting open in 2016. All that being said, this is a pick for future seasons – whether I roll him out as a FLEX with Gronk at TE or turn a productive campaign into more players or picks I’m excited about the long-term fit in San Diego with Gates’ impending retirement.

Round 5
1. Terrelle Pryor
2. Vontaze Burfict
3. Nelson Agholor
4. Harrison Smith
5. Noah Spence
6. Olivier Vernon
7. Larry Donnell
8. Darron Lee
9. Benjamin Cunningham
10. Tyler Ervin
11. Jonathan Williams
12. Myles Jack

I could have found room for a vet here and was very intrigued by Terrelle Pryor who went at the top of the round, but chose instead to take a lotto ticket on a relative unknown. The backfield depth chart in Buffalo is littered in front of him, but with Karlos Williams jettisoned earlier this summer the depth chart in Buffalo is unclear this year and beyond. LeSean McCoy is just 28 and remains good-to-go as the starter. Reggie Bush was just signed to work as a returner and contribute as a change of pace. And Mike Gillislee is present. Still, my third straight Razorback fell to the 5th round because of injury concerns only. If he’s able to stay healthy after missing his 2015 season, the strong, instinctual runner will have an opportunity to learn and grow slowly in year one. At this stage of the draft, if he’s off their roster or mine by this time next year I won’t be concerned… but, Williams strikes me as a guy who could electrify if he gets on the field.

This, from his NFL.com draft profile:

“Has enough size, heart and talent to be a three-down running back… Williams is one of the more creative runners in tight quarters that you will find in this draft, but teams won’t have to sacrifice too much toughness in order to take advantage of his slashing style.”

Round 6
1. Vance MacDonald
2. Landon Collins
3. Reggie Bush
4. Tyrell Williams
5. Joey Bosa
6. Jacquizz Rodgers
7. Brian Cushing
8. Shaq Lawson
9. Charles Johnson
10. Daniel Lasco
11. Kelvin Taylor
12. Andre Ellington

Another round, another unheralded back. A lot of this had to do with what players fell to me, but overall I’m quite happy to let others find interest in ‘hype’ guys or veterans with a limited ceiling while backloading my roster with guys who may just pay off. Essentially, if one of the three backs I selected from Round 4-6 find themselves as a starter over the next 2-3 seasons, I’ll count it as a win and fill a serious need. If not, what was I going to do with Reggie Bush or Jacquizz Rodgers types selected at this stage anyway?

Taylor, admittedly, is the longest shot. Hyde, Draughan, Davis, and Harris all reside ahead of him on the team’s depth chart and his 2016 prospects likely rest on him playing meaningful special teams snaps. Still, he’s got a good head for the NFL game, impressive ball security (no fumbles in College) and should acclimate quickly, with a shot to serve as the team’s #2 or 3 back this season.

 

So, all told… with seven selections over six rounds I came away with no one likely to contribute to my team in 2016 – and I’m still pretty pleased with my draft. Most of all, I think the Hunter Henry (he’s ranked as the 18th best dynasty rookie for fantasy purposes, per fantasy pros) pick has great potential and I’ll be excited to watch my first rounders this year with an eye toward next. With a solid foundation, that’s all I could have asked for heading into the draft.

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.