Sep 29

Week 4 NFL Ranks

Heading into week four you’ll note some significant changes as depth charts and available opportunities continue to be in flux throughout the league. Moreover, in our Week 3 Touches and Targets piece we noted a few defenses that have earned the label of must-avoid, or at least, downgrade through three weeks.

Those are reflected in the ranks below, designed to help you with your start / sit questions. A brief discussion follows the rankings widget.

Week 4 NFL Ranks

 

Week 4 NFL Ranks Discussion

  • The Raiders D managed to get the hemorrhaging under control against the Titans last week, but I’m all in on Joe Flacco as a top-12 QB in Week 4. Steve Smith is coming on, Dennis Pitta appears back to form, and Mike Wallace is a great fit for the offense. This won’t be an every week position for Flacco and co. but the Oakland D is a matchup that looks to be worth exploiting through three weeks.
  • I don’t want anything to do with Charles Sims (at least as a mid-range RB2) against the Broncos. Denver’s defense has actually given up four TDs to RBs this season and are allowing completions at a 15/17 rate out of the backfield, but Tampa Bay’s hot and cold offense should struggle against them overall. I’m expecting a low scoring contest with limited TD upside for Sims and a front-seven that should keep him in check between the tackles.
  • Doug Baldwin and his QB are both playing through pain this week, but we saw a week ago that with Russell Wilson contained to the pocket he relied on Baldwin (11 targets) and Jimmy Graham. I’m expecting more of the same against a Jets D that will either be without Darrelle Revis or remains exploitable over the top by speed.
  • The Lions have given up five TDs to TEs through three weeks of the season and Zach Miller was heavily targeted in Brian Hoyer’s Week 3 start. I think he’ll see a lot of use again, and remain a solid red zone option. He’s flush with TE1 upside this week.

Sep 28

Touches and Targets: NFL Week 3 Review

As much as weekly and cumulative usage starts to paint a picture at this point of the season, defensive matchups are equally important. Through three weeks, both sides of the equation are coming into focus. Everyone expected that they’d have to temper offensive expectations against Seattle, Carolina, Houston (even now without J.J. Watt) and Denver, but there are a few other legitimate shut down defenses that have shown their ability to cut an opponents fantasy production through the first three weeks. It’s time to start paying attention.

After watching Minnesota sack QB Cam Newton eight times on Sunday and following a defense that has created consistent pressure against the opposing offensive line through three weeks they certainly belong in the ‘downgrade’ category. Aging CB Terrance Newman has allowed a few big plays and has seen a number of pass interference calls go against him as well, but as long as the d-line is generating a significant pass rush he won’t be exploited significantly. At 295 YPG and 13.3 PPG allowed, the ceiling is low on your fantasy stars against the Vikings.

Other surprise entries into the top-7: the Ravens, whose defense appears to be back to form and the Philadelphia Eagles who have a lot of young talent on D and seem to have made the right personnel and scheme (i.e. they aren’t on the field all the time) changes after Chip Kelly’s departure. Say what you will about quality of opponent through three week’s, Jim Schwartz’s defense in Philadelphia is performing – the Eagles have allowed just 9 PPG this year. That number is certain to climb, but make no mistake, this defense is legit.

And now, onto the bullets for the other half of the equation.

Touches and Targets: NFL Week 3 Review

LeGarrette Blount has had a lot to celebrate this season (Photo: Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports).

LeGarrette Blount has had a lot to celebrate this season (Photo: Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports).

  • LeGarrette Blount out-touched James White 24-4 on Thursday Night Football and I’d expect that trend to continue for the week ahead against Buffalo. As Tom Brady integrates back into the lineup, the team will probably lean more heavily on the run than pass as well, but I’m not expecting a 24 touch workload to be a mainstay for Blount. In fact, if you can find a taker you’ve probably got a ~10 day window to deal him before that number gradually starts to decline. Blount has had more than 22 carries in each of the three games to start the year, but the offense should shift when Brady gets up to speed.
  • Yes, the Cardinals traveled poorly and Carson Palmer showed shades of his 2015-playoff self but there is some silver lining for the fantasy prospects of at least one Cardinal. David Johnson scored twice so you’re already well aware of his solid output, but what was particularly impressive is that he managed a solid workload despite poor game flow. Buffalo went up 23-7 quickly in the third quarter and Johnson still netted 19 carries (83 yards) and made three receptions on six targets. Meantime, with the team trailing, Palmer slung it around a lot as well. Larry Fitzgerald (12) led WRs in targets but John Brown and Michael Floyd finished right behind him (11). In a standard week there won’t be that much volume to go around, but it does seem that Johnson is in line for solid work regardless of game situation.
    • With Sammy Watkins out, Robert Woods led receivers with eight targets for Buffalo. You won’t want to use him regularly, but he could be a decent PPR play when Watkins misses time. Relative unknown Walt Powell (5/3/28) saw as many looks as Marquise Goodwin.
  • After a solid fantasy outing in Week 2, Giovani Bernard had just five carries (8 yards) while Jeremy Hill picked up 17 and the goal line work (as expected). Gio did manage to haul in all five of his targets, but this makes two weeks now where he had 10 touches or fewer. He hasn’t topped five carries in a game The Bengals and Broncos played close for most of the day, despite what the box score suggests, and it seems that they were content to run their base offense most of the day… leaving Bernard without a lot of work. This (averaging five carries per game vs. 9.6 from 2015) seems like the new normal in the post-Jackson offense. If I could get an RB2 trade offer for Bernard after a solid game, I’d take it.
  • Emmanuel Sanders had 13 targets to Demaryius Thomas’ seven a week after griping about the ball not finding its way to him. I’ll be intrigued to see if that holds in Week 4 or whether it was a squeaky wheel situation.
  • The story of Detroit’s outing on offense was Marvin Jones’ big day, but a little deeper look suggests that Dwayne Washington is worth an add. It was speculated that he’d see some work between the tackles for Detroit, and with Theo Riddick struggling to carry the ball (overall he had 10 for 9 yards) he notched 10 carries. He was targeted just once and lost yards, but if the Lions are taking this week as proof that Riddick isn’t ready to carry the load, 12-15 touches isn’t out of the question for Washington moving forward. Riddick received 9 targets and caught 7 balls, so he has the PPR value you’d expect but you shouldn’t anticipate him being a 20 touch back with Abdullah out.
  • Green Bay didn’t need to pass a whole lot, so we won’t read too much into the data, save to note that it’s Jordy Nelson (seven looks; six catches and two scores) and everybody else when the score gets lopsided. Davante Adams scored and has had seven targets in each of the team’s first two games, so he may be worth a look in deeper leagues but will be inconsistent, particularly when the score gets lopsided.
  • A week after netting eight carries while rookie DeAndre Washington had seven and Jalen Richard followed with six, Latavius Murray didn’t fare much better for Oakland. Murray had 10 carries, ran well, and found the endzone but Washington cut into his work load again, ripping off a 30-yard carry and notching 57 total on six – a number matched by Richard. There are plenty of carries to go around, but this is a full blown RBBC in Oakland. He’s tied to a potent offense and there aren’t a lot of 18-20 touch backs out there… but if you could land one who has had a heftier workload through three weeks, it may be a worth a look.
  • One to file away for later: Jace Amaro (and not Anthony Fasano) was the featured Tight End with Delanie Walker out of the lineup. He had four targets, and caught three of them for 59 yards. Not an awful situation if you’re in need of a flier.
  • With Josh Gordon due back after Week 4 I’m not thinking Gary Barnidge’s heavy use will keep up – he was targeted six times and caught five balls this week with Corey Coleman absent from the lineup, but after a slow start to the season I wouldn’t treat this as a long-term sign of resurgence. On the ground, the Browns were predictably run heavy and that proved to be a strong formula. Isaiah Crowell picked up 15 carries (for a productive 79 yards) and did not connect on his lone target while Duke Johnson caught five balls on seven looks (netting just 12 yards) and added 10 carries. I’d count on 13-16 touches a piece moving forward, though those numbers won’t yield particularly attractive fantasy lines unless they score.
  • I went heavy on Devonte Parker last week after he was heavily used by the Dolphins in his return to the field, and he netted just six targets this week – behind Jarvis Landry (expected) and Kenny Stills (8). Stills had four targets to Parker’s 13 a week ago.
  • If Arian Foster misses another week it seems that the Fins are very much committed to a committee approach behind him. Kenyan Drake led backs with nine; while Jay Ajayi had seven (including the overtime game-winning TD) and Isaiah Pead even chipped in with 5. That’s not enough work load to get excited about anyone.
  • Orleans Darkwa scored and was the only back other than the now-injured Shane Vereen to net carries (10) this week. He scored, and put up a 5.3 YPC average and has generally been productive while in the lineup. Bobby Rainey was active in this one as well, while Paul Perkins didn’t see the field. As such, Darkwa is the warranted add and should stay engaged to spell Rashad Jennings even when the veteran is back to health. Meantime, add Darkwa and keep an eye on the injury report for Week 4.
  • It’s getting hard to ignore Jamison Crowder, who was targeted seven times this week (one behind DeSean Jackson and tied with Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed in an even distribution from Kirk Cousins. Crowder caught four balls for 78 yards and a score, and now sits at 25 targets on the young season. The seven looks are actually the lowest he’s seen on the season. Indeed, the ball has been fairly well distributed as Garcon, Jackson and Reed all have more than 20 of their own… which means that some weeks Crowder could be under-productive relative to his peers but he certainly warrants ownership in most standard leagues.
  • Cameron Artis-Payne was active for the first time on the season in the wake of Jonathan Stewart’s injury and he received 12 carries to Fozzy Whittaker’s five this week… essentially, replacing Stewart’s workload. Against a tough defensive front he put up a 3.9 YPC average and should fare well as a back-end RB2/FLEX as long as Stewart is out. For his part, Whittaker got the passing down work and netted six targets to CAP’s 1. The Panthers (having faced the Vikings and Broncos in their first three games) have had a rough start to the season in terms of fantasy schedule, but the sledding gets lighter from here.
  • For the Vikings, the run game didn’t produce a whole lot but the carries were dominated by Jerrick McKinnon. McKinnon had 16 carries (to six for Matt Asiata) and was targeted twice. With the Giants, Texans and Eagles on the horizon the matchups aren’t particularly easy but McKinnon should work fine as a volume play and he has some juicy opponents mid-season. In theory, he’s worth a buy-low trade offer should he struggle to put up points in the next few weeks.
  • Terrance West led the Ravens backfield in carries for the second time in three weeks (10-7 over Forsett) but with Kenneth Dixon’s return looming, the split may become even more troublesome despite the fact that the Ravens offense is operating at a pretty good clip early this year. In the pass game, Dennis Pitta (eight targets) and Steve Smith (11) paced the pass catchers in targets. Smith seems to be returning to form quite well, and his increased workload came directly at the expense of Mike Wallace. Wallace is going to continue to work as a deep threat and will get his looks in the endzone, but his weekly floor is fairly low with Smith dominating looks again. This week’s six targets are nothing to shake a stick at, but they do represent a decline.
  • Chris Ivory saw 12 carries in his return to action for Jacksonville. He didn’t do a thing with them (14 yards) but T.J. Yeldon had just six. The Jags have struggled and have a long trip this week for their overseas game, but Ivory isn’t worth giving up on coming out of the bye.
  • Jimmy Graham’s target count went through the roof this week, nearly doubling his season total with nine. He looked sharp, too, and Russell Wilson knew it. Better yet for fantasy investors: on a day when the Seahawks didn’t have to pass a whole lot, and where Graham’s targets spiked, Doug Baldwin still got his (10-8-164-TD).
  • The Bucs spent far more time passing than anyone projected this week, but Charles Sims still had 13 carries (adding six catches on eight targets) while Jacquizz Rodgers had just five so the rumours of a timeshare seem to have been greatly exaggerated – something to bear in mind now, or later in the season if Doug Martin misses any more time.
  • Adam Humphries’ 12 looks appear to have been a product of an exploitable matchup more than a leaping of Vincent Jackson in the pecking order. That said, he did produce 100 yards on nine receptions while the vet had just six targets and has posted only 99 yards on the season. Jackson isn’t in the WR3 conversation at this stage.
  • Tyrell Williams (nine) out-targeted Travis Benjamin (seven) against the Colts. Judging by the last two weeks, something around (eight) apiece in a standard contest is a fair projection.
  • Y. Hilton was the main beneficiary of Donte Moncrief’s absence, with 11 looks and the game winning score. Meantime, Philip Dorsett caught three balls on four targets – hardly mind blowing numbers. Jack Doyle was the Colts’ most targeted TE (6-5 over Dwayne Allen).
  • Matt Forte has been a workhorse in the first three games, and he notched 15 carries in a contest that the Jets trailed throughout. That said, Bilal Powell still appears to be in the lead as the passing down / catch up back. Powell had only four carries, but was targeted seven times (making six receptions) in the passing game while Forte had four (catching two). It’s worth watching to see if this trend continues, and adjusting expectations for Forte based on projected game flow. You may get a good chance to see New York trail against Seattle.
  • Philadelphia was in control most of the game so this may have been simply taking advantage of an opportunity to get the rookie back touches (15 carries came after half time with Philadelphia well in control), but with Ryan Mathews going down it was Wendell Smallwood (17 total rush attempts) who got the carries. Smallwood impressed, too, with 79 yards and a score. Kenjon Barner pitched in with seven, but the situation is worth monitoring re: Mathews’ health coming out of the team’s Week 4 bye. In the passing game, one week after all my Nelson Agholor love Dorial Green-Beckham saw four targets to his three. This wasn’t a typical gameflow, however, and I still see Agholor as the team’s #2 option and worthy of ownership in deeper leagues.
  • With Jeremy Langford going down and set to miss at least a month, Jordan Howard stepped in with nine carries for 45 yards for Chicago. It looks like the Bears will trail often, limiting his overall opportunities, but Howard demonstrated burst that Langford hasn’t and this could be his job to hold. Further, he was targeted six times in the passing game which is promising. The next test comes with monitoring the snaps and touches when Ka’Deem Carey is available but Howard must be owned in all formats.
  • TE Zach Miller was a favourite target of Brian Hoyer’s, scoring twice on nine targets. Kevin White actually led pass catchers (14) but I’d expect that particular pendulum to swing back in favour of Alshon Jeffery.
  • Both had monster fantasy lines, but just in case you missed it Devonta Freeman slightly out-touched Tevin Coleman (19-15 this week). He outgained him significantly, however, it was Coleman who had the touchdown binge. Both are absolutely worth starting in most matchups; but based on the early returns a projected 60-40 split in favour of Freeman is a fair expectation re: the workload distribution.
  • Last week, we used a healthy 8 target performance to suggest that Coby Fleener would remain engaged in the Saints offense. He certainly did in Week 3 and what’s more, he was finally productive. Fleener drew 11 targets (or just over 20% of Drew Brees’ 54 pass attempts) which tied Michael Thomas for the team lead. The numbers for both will come down, perhaps considerably, when Willie Snead is active but Fleener remains very much a part of the offense and Thomas flashed great potential. I’d still treat the TE as a back-end starting option at the position until he can string together productive outings, but that outlook is much better than what most were giving him at this time last week.

Sep 22

Week 3 NFL Ranks

With two weeks behind us the data points are starting to take on a little more meaning. It’s still not time to abandon any preconceived notions about players, but snap counts, touches, targets and usage through the first two games are starting to take on more meaning. With that in mind, those items have influenced the ranks below which should help you prepare for Week 3.

A discussion of some of the big departures from ECR follows the rankings below.

Week 3 NFL Ranks

 

Week 3 NFL Ranks Discussion

  • I’ve got Matt Ryan and Drew Brees hovering near the top of my QB ranks this week. Perhaps in Week 3 we’ll all get the 100 point Saints game that we were all expecting in Week 2. Other rankers, and others in your daily games are likely down on Ryan in particular this week after what is being perceived as a strong defensive effort by the Saints in Week 2 against the Giants… except, Eli Manning passed for 368 yards last week and misfired on just nine of 41 attempts. This secondary is still injured (more so) and poor (always), they just got away with a few turnovers last week and a few failed executions from the Giants. Count on Ryan (and + matchup for Mo Sanu, too) putting up numbers against the Saints this week. He’s fantasy’s number one scorer through two weeks of the season. It won’t hold forever, but should last another week.
  • I’m three spots behind ECR on Lamar Miller this week. He’s coming off back to back career high weeks in touches and while I love that he’s getting a featured back’s workload in Houston, I’d expect that to lighten a bit, and him to struggle a bit in Week 3 against the Pats on a short week. Again, he’s still my number 7 RB so it’s not like I’ve given up entirely… but, I can’t rank him top-5 on Thursday Night Football.
  • After a poor showing, I’ve still ranked Golden Tate at #30 as a solid WR3 this week against the Packers. Green Bay’s defense has looked strong through two weeks and Tate’s production is down… but, he had nine targets a week ago. He’s still very much a part of Matthew Stafford’s pass attack. The Lions should lean a little more heavily on the pass with the feature back out of the lineup as well. Count on 8-10 looks again this week for Tate and hope he’s more productive with them.
  • The absence of Corey Coleman for at least a month is just what Gary Barnidge owners are looking for. Without a lot of legitimate weapons (I like Pryor, but he’s hardly a consistent WR1 threat for this offense) I see him becoming the focus of the passing attack again. With the requisite Cody Kessler grain of salt he’s back as a back-end TE1 for me this week.

Sep 20

Touches and Targets: NFL Week 2 Review

Beyond just reviewing the box score, one of the most important ‘next steps’ for upping your fantasy game is understanding the data behind the raw numbers. You can take that analysis to the nth degree, if you’re hardcore, but at a minimum a wise gamer knows that there is a big difference between a 3 catch, 3 target, 120 yard receiving line with most of the yardage being generated on a single blown coverage than a player going 9/7/120 in a similar contest.

Both outings give you 12 standard league fantasy points, but there one line is a lot more easy to count on happening repeatedly over the course of the season… particularly if trends start to emerge.

That’s what this piece is all about, taking that first next step beyond the obvious for you. Beyond the X number of fantasy points that look good (or bad) in your box score and trying to use this and previous weeks’ workload data to project next and future weeks’ outcomes.

With that in mind, each week you’ll find my highlights of a deeper review of the box scores shared in this space.

Touches and Targets: NFL Week 2 Review

Travis Benjamin (pictured) and Tyrell Williams were both effective in the sans-Allen offense for San Diego (Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images North America).

Travis Benjamin (pictured) and Tyrell Williams were both effective in the sans-Allen offense for San Diego (Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images North America).

In San Diego’s first week without Keenan Allen we got a glimpse as to how their workload might shake out moving forward. Of course, with the Chargers plastering the Jaguars and Philip Rivers throwing just 24 passes as a result the data is a bit skewed… but, we can still make meaning from it. Rivers threw just 24 passes in a game that San Diego won handily, but doled out 6 targets each to Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams. Both scored long TDs (Benjamin twice), while Antonio Gates came in behind them (five targets). As we look ahead to Week 3, you don’t love that San Diego is leaving their West Coast home for Indianapolis but you have to love the opponent. Indianapolis has the offense to put up points and they don’t offer much resistance on defense, with their secondary taking further bruises in Week 2.

Last week, Trevor Siemian didn’t score a lot, but didn’t have a lot of trouble finding the open man either. Matthew Stafford carved up this secondary in Week 1. Rivers is more polished than Siemian, and arguably more consistent than Stafford….

Even if Williams and Benjamin split targets again, Rivers should attempt something in the range of 35 passes at least… that looks more like nine apiece than six. Their share of the targets may further grow with Danny Woodhead now out of the lineup for the remainder of the season. Woodhead – who caught 81 balls last year – takes at least 30 receptions with him that will have to be distributed throughout the receiving corps (assuming the backs pick up the rest of the slack).

On the note of the backs, it’s now Melvin Gordon‘s show in San Diego and that might actually be a good thing. Gordon had 24 carries and topped 100 yards this week. He scored his 3rd TD of the season after failing to score any in his rookie year.

I’m all in on Benjamin, Williams and Gordon this week and will happily use Gates at TE in daily leagues and streaming situations.

 

With that dispensed, lets get on to the bullets:

  • I didn’t watch a lot of the game so can’t speak to this in detail, but Allen Robinson had just 5 targets for the Jaguars… he finished behind Allen Hurns (10) – this is fair, he’s earned his work – Marqise Lee (7), Julius Thomas (7) and T.J. Yeldon (10). (Yeldon managed just 10 yards on eight catches, too). No need to panic as he was used in a high volume role in Week 1, but something to be attentive to when factoring Robinson’s role into start/sit decisions and daily lineups.
  • Dez Bryant, with a highly efficient rookie QB, posted a solid line this week. He finished 7-102 on 12 targets, or 40% of Dak’s 30 pass attempts.
  • Jamison Crowder scored and has 18 targets through two games (8 this week to lead the team; rookie and presumed #3 Josh Doctson had 5 but caught just one).
  • Unsurprisingly, the Patriots employed a heavy dose of LeGarrette Blount after Jacoby Brissett came into the game. Blount finished with 29 carries while Brissett threw just nine passes. 19 of those carries came after Garoppolo left the game. Expect more of the same with a short turn around to get the rookie QB ready, though the Houston defense won’t let New England simply grind clock. Blount is an underwhelming play this week despite volume, but could be intriguing against Buffalo if Jimmy G does miss extended time.
  • Devante Parker tied Jarvis Landry with 13 targets in his first game active this year. After some bad press late in August, it seems that it might not be all doom and gloom for him (eight catches, 106 yards). Stills scored and had a decent fantasy day as a result, but don’t let that obscure that Parker may be ahead of him on the pecking order after all. He gets the Browns in Week 3.

I talked Devante Parker; Nelson Agholor and more with Chris Meaney and Ashley Docking of FNTSY Sports Network:

  • Thursday: Forte had 30 carries, scored thrice, and added two catches on four targets. He now has 59 targets through two weeks. Owners may want to sell high on the veteran at a certain point if that keeps up – can he handle 30 touches a week over a 16 game season?
    • Quincy Enunwa missed some time but went 6/6 for 92 and has 14 targets through two games with Brandon Marshall possibly missing time. This week brings a tough matchup against the Chiefs, but don’t be discouraged if he doesn’t have a strong performance there. The Jets haven’t really used Kellen Davis (targeted just once) but Enunwa has a TE body type and runs some routes against linebackers while lining up in tight on a number of occasions. He’s being deployed creatively and is an important part of a better-than-you-want-to-admit offense…
  • Mike Wallace has scored three times in two weeks and looks like a great fit with Joe Flacco, but the real story is Dennis Pitta who had 12 targets (nine catches, 102) to lead hte team. He led TEs last week as well, and is cemented as top option there while healthy. If nothing else, we’ve answered questions around his health through the first two weeks and he warrants an add if available.
  • Terrelle Pryor had a quiet day and a costly penalty, but it should be noted that he was targeted 10 times, which was actually more than Corey Coleman’s 8. Coleman, of course, was excellent… but if you were high on Pryor after Week 1 the ten targets are encouraging.
  • On the note of quiet days with a lot of looks: Before we panic on Tajae Sharpe and his three catch outing, it should be noted that his seven targets led all receivers (Murray also saw seven out of the backfield).
  • The Detroit passing game wasn’t quite as awful as the final stat line portends (including consecutive TDs called back by penalties and a number of costly drops by Golden Tate. Tate had nine targets and made two catches). Better days are ahead for Matthew Stafford and co. Specifically, I like the outlook for Marvin Jones. He led the team with 11 looks and has 21 with 203 yards through the season’s first two games, noteworthy given that these are the first two games of the post-Calvin era.
  • The Saints put the ball in the air 44 times, so everyone got a lot of work, but it’s not time to panic on Coby Fleener yet. He saw eight targets (tied with Willie Snead, one behind Brandin Cooks) in week two and while he and Drew Brees still have some issues in their communication, it seems evident that the team wants their FA acquisition to play a significant role. I’m not ready to use him yet, but if you drafted Fleener as your TE1 I wouldn’t cut ties either. It’s a long season.
  • Eli Manning passed for 368 yards and had just nine incompletions on 41 attempts. Three lost fumbles made the score a lot closer than it should have been, but don’t mistake this for an overall defensive improvement from New Orleans. They get Julio Jones ad Mohamed Sanu next week – the two had just five targets apiece on 34 Matt Ryan pass attempts,m but it’s a plus matchup for both and Sanu saw eight passes thrown his way in Week 1. Jacob Tamme actually leads the team with 16 targets through two games (eight this week).
  • I’m not making too much of Cincinnati’s poor offensive outing in the rain against Pittsburgh, but I will note that Giovani Bernard was targeted 11 times in the passing game (catching nine balls for 101). The weather likely had a lot to do with that as well, but after a seven touch Week 1 it seems that at least in the right matchup and context Bernard remains useful in the post-Jackson offense.
    • Tyler Boyd will be a popular waiver wire add this week – and likely should be – but Dalton threw 54 passes this week and Brandon LaFell had eight looks of his own after going 4/4/91 in the opener. Factor in Bernard and Tyler Eifert’s impending return and most weeks (especially with Cincinnati likely to lead more often than not) and you won’t see eight balls for the 3rd, 4th or 5th option.
  • Jonathan Stewart left the game early for Carolina and as a result Fozzy Whittaker ended up with 16 carries (100 yards) and 3 catches on 4 targets. If Stewart misses time, it seems that the team is content to roll with Whittaker with a similar workload. Keep an eye on chatter around Cameron Artis-Payne, but he’s been inactive for the first two weeks.
  • Lamar Miller didn’t do a whole heck of a lot – just 3.3 YPC – against KC but he ran the ball 25 times and caught two passes. He now has 65 touches through two weeks. By contrast, he didn’t get to that total until Week 5 last year. I’m not crazy about him on short week after a high volume game vs. NE but he’s a lock as a top-3 RB this year as long as he’s healthy getting that volume.
    • DeAndre Hopkins got his, but Will Fuller is clearly a significant part of the team’s passing game after his second career game. He was the only other Texan with more than three looks (seven), catching four balls (for 104).
  • It was an ugly day as part of an ugly start to the season for Seattle, but it was particularly bad for Thomas Rawls who gained just eight yards on 10 touches while Christine Michael – who out-gained him in the opener as well – carried 10 times for 60 yards, adding 26 yards on 3/4 receiving. Rawls left with a minor injury. This backfield is shaping up to be a timeshare, but Rawls can’t afford too many more lackluster performances.
  • Such that you’re interested in being tied to the TD-less, Case Keenum led, Rams offense it should be noted that Kenny Britt led the team in targets (10) and yards (94) a week after leading the team in receiving in the opener (67 yards).
  • Larry Fitzgerald scored again this week, drawing 11 targets. Michael Floyd had a TD of his own to save his fantasy day, but otherwise had just eight yards receiving on six looks. Be it from teams game planning against him, or the Cardinals choosing to focus on Fitzgerald, it’s hard to trust Floyd and his 13 targets through two games (vs. Fitzgerald’s 21) as much more than a WR3/4.
  • Indianapolis had a rough day passing the ball against Denver, but with so many options in the passing game Andrew Luck’s 40 attempts were spread thin. After TY Hilton, the clear lead, had his 11 targets Dorsett (5), Moncrief (3), Allen (4) and other players of interest split the remaining. Moncrief remains a WR2 but in weeks where you’re expecting a down day for Indianapolis offensively it’s fair to note that the ‘many mouths’ may leave the secondary targets without a lot to feed on.
  • Devonta Freeman out-carried Tevin Coleman 17-12 this week, and was much more efficient (93 yards) against Oakland than in Week 1 against Tampa. Still, Coleman went 2/2 on his targets and it was pretty much an even split. Freeman had a solid game for his owners, but don’t let 93 yards obscure the fact that they’re still splitting carries (with Coleman scoring the TD and thus having the better fantasy day this week). More often than not, there won’t be 29 carries for them to split.

Sep 15

Week 2 NFL Ranks

While it’s a small sample size and far too early to read into any perceived strengths or weaknesses across the league, some of our preseason thinking gained more support in Week 1. As such, our Week 2 NFL ranks take into account potential defenses to pick on in your matchups this week.

Below the table, a few quick points on areas where I’m out of alignment with ECR.

 

  • You only care about this rank if looking for a value DFS play or in a 2QB format, but I’m pleased to be 8 spots ahead of ECR on Trevor Siemian. He fared well enough against a tough defense in Carolina in Week 1 and has had 10 days to prepare for a matchup against a Colts’ secondary that came into the season injured and undermanned and came out of Week 1 even more banged up.
  • No one wants to over-react to Week 1’s results, but I find it hard to rank Todd Gurley as anything other than a middling RB2 this week. Case Keenum admits he was ‘seeing ghosts‘ a week ago and certainly looked under manned against the 49ers. The task is much taller for the entire Rams offense against the Seahawks this week, and while the team may feature Gurley it’s hard to envision them scoring more than once or twice overall against the ‘Hawks in their LA home opener. Keenum and co. are going to struggle to move the ball and as such, there isn’t a lot of ceiling offered with Gurley in Week 2.
  • Stefon Diggs profiles as a top-end WR3/WR2 this week against the Packers. Minnesota’s offense underwhelmed in the opener against Tennessee but could find itself in catch up mode against Green Bay this week. While the switch from Hill to Bradford makes it harder to project how this week will shake out, Diggs remained the clear first option in the passing game a week ago (nine targets) and should easily match that number in Week 2 suggesting that a second 100 yard game to open the season is within reach.
  • With all of their options on offense, the Colts leaned heavily on the TE position a week ago against Detroit. With Denver’s solid defensive backfield matching up against Indianapolis’ WR’s Allen could become a redzone option again this week – don’t be worried about the impact of Jack Doyle, but do count on the TE position being a redzone feature the rest of the way with a speedy-but-slight WR corps featured in Indy.

Sep 09

Week 1 Fantasy Football Ranks

They’re posted a little later than we’d like here inside the locker room, but this is always a rough day job week… so… here they are on Friday AM after the Thursday nighter.

Our Week 1 Fantasy Football Ranks are posted without much discussion, though the bullets below the post highlight some of the players I’m higher or lower on in terms of ECR with an eye toward who I’ll be targeting in DFS this week.

 

 
Week 1 is a challenge as a general rule, as you don’t know a lot about schemes on both sides of the ball, and further about which teams will be truly good and bad against the run, pass, etc. Certainly, you can’t base your assessments on last year’s rosters. Alas, here are the high points:

  • I’m well ahead of ECR on Matthew Stafford. I was in my preseason ranks as well, and it has a lot to do with how well he performed under Jim Bob Cooter last year as OC. Losing Johnson hurts, sure, but Tate and Jones aren’t a dismal group at WR. This week in particular, it’s about exploiting an Indianapolis secondary that wasn’t very good to begin with and was hit with the injury bug this preseason. Keep an eye on both QBs in Vegas’ highest projected point total of the week.
  • I’m buying Carlos Hyde in Chip Kelly’s offense and expect a run heavy game plan. There isn’t a lot of talent at WR and Blaine Gabbert is a QB you want to hide not game plan around.
  • I’m not ready to make any season long projections on the Seattle backfield, though I think that Thomas Rawls will get his shot. That said, this week in a game at home with the ‘Hawks projected to win big and be running out the clock, I’m betting on a big outing from Christine Michael. Expect a handful of carries for Rawls and the bulk of the work for Michael in Week 1.
  • I’m not scared off by Dez with Dak. I definitely think you’ll see a run heavy game plan, but the two made some plays together in the pre-season and Dez remains the best option in the receiving game by a wide margin. I don’t expect to see a ton of defense in this contest, and think Dez could put up some serious points on 10+ targets.

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.

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