Football season is finally here! More importantly, fantasy football season is here. The more dedicated(obsessed) of you have been closely monitoring the trade, free agency, draft and injury news throughout the entire offseason and preseason. However, there are plenty that checks out in January and are just now getting back into it. After all, there is more to life than fantasy football…I think…These are the 16 AFC changes you need to know before you make any draft picks in 2017.
1. Patriots Backfield Roulette is Back
Now an Eagle, LeGarrette Blount’s league-leading 18 rushing touchdowns from 2016, have exited the RB room in Foxborough. Former Bill Mike Gillislee was signed this offseason and is the favorite to inherit the majority of Blount’s workload. Free Agent Rex Burkhead was also brought in as another versatile back to share the carries. Dion Lewis, who spent time as a fantasy RB1 in 2015, was finally healthy at the end of last year, and the Patriots are 10-0 in games where Lewis plays. Drafted in 2014, James White really came on in the playoffs last year and was the best Patriot player not named Tom Brady in Super Bowl LI. All of this competition in the backfield makes me wary of taking any of them in drafts.
The highest scoring fantasy WR from the 2016 Jets, Quincy Enunwa, has suffered a season-ending neck injury. Brandon Marshall moved across the street, and Eric Decker was released along with several other starters on both sides of the ball. The quarterbacks for the 2017 Jets look even worse than Ryan Fitzpatrick did last year(if that’s possible). Between Josh McCown, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, there isn’t a sense of optimism for the Jets’ 2017 campaign. Maybe RBs Matt Forte and Bilal Powell can add value to your fantasy team, but how often will this group have the opportunity to run the ball with the talent deficiencies they have throughout the roster?
3. Panic Mode in Miami
At first, this section went something like: there aren’t enough touches in this offense to go around. Jay Ajayi as an RB1, Jarvis Landry as a PPR machine, Julius Thomas returning to form, DeVante Parker finally breaking out and Kenny Stills repeating his nine touchdowns from 2016 is doubtful to all happen this year. However, QB Ryan Tannehill’s season is now over after aggravating a knee injury he suffered at the end of last year. With the unretired Jay Cutler not much of an upgrade if at all, something’s got to give in this offense. Choose wisely.
4. WR Exodus
196 targets have left Tyrod Taylor and the Bills offense between Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin. Jordan Matthews and Zay Jones are in prime position to absorb many of those looks. The Bills have an uninspiring cast of receivers behind them though, and Charles Clay has not been more than a streaming TE for fantasy over his career. All of this adds up to a continuation of the Bills run-heavy approach by necessity, with LeSean McCoy and Jonathan Williams at the helm.
5. Martavis the Phoenix
Martavis Bryant has finally been reinstated…kind of? As of this writing, there are still “i’s” being dotted and “t’s” being crossed, but everything is in line for a redemptive return for the ultra-athletic wide receiver. The 6’4” wideout with a 4.42 40 yard dash time played 24 total games for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2014-2015 before missing the entire 2016 with a substance abuse suspension. In those games, essentially a season and a half, Bryant put up 95 catches, 1,697 total yards, and 17 TDs. Reorganized into a 16-game pace, that would put him as last year’s WR6(WR12 in PPR). Now that’s a bit of loosey-goosey math, but it does show the incredible potential Bryant has if he could play a full season. To boot, Antonio Brown’s stats have actually gone up when on the field with Martavis.
6. A Broken Line
Three time Pro Bowl LT Andrew Whitworth has left Cincinnati along with G Kevin Zeitler who has started 75 games for the Bengals over his five-year career. Those were the unquestioned best two players on that line in 2016. The Bengals largely ignored the position in the draft, relying on the young players they do have to step up. They also brought back Tackle Andre Smith, who is coming off of a triceps injury and an uninspiring one year stint with the Vikings. If the young players don’t take the next step forward, this line could be much worse this year, with devastating fantasy consequences.
7. Target Transfer
Through injuries and Free Agency, the losses of FB Kyle Juszczyk, RB Kenneth Dixon, WRs Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken, and TEs Darren Waller, Dennis Pitta and Crockett Gilmore have freed up 393 targets in the Baltimore offense. The majority of those will likely be taken up by new additions Danny Woodhead, Jeremy Maclin and a now healthy Benjamin Watson. However, the gap in targets will still be there for players like Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, and Terrence West to take advantage of.
8. Fixing the Front
The previously mentioned Kevin Zeitler made Cleveland his new home this offseason. The Browns also added JC Tretter, the Packers starter at center in 2016. G Joel Bitonio should be healthy as well after missing 11 games last season. If the RT spot can be at least average across from star LT Joe Thomas, this line can be a strength for a team that desperately needs one, and Isaiah Crowell can improve on his already impressive RB14 finish from 2016.
9. Just the Jags Again
After upgrading their defense yet again this off-season, Jacksonville seems finally ready to contend. They’ve revamped the running game and offensive line to boot. Fourth overall pick Leonard Fournette should be the power back the Jags thought they were getting last year with FA Chris Ivory. Many believe this time will work with HC Doug Marrone quoted saying the ideal number of times he’d like QB Blake Bortles to throw this season would be 0. I tend to think this is more of the same offseason Jaguars hype we hear year-after-year. As long as they are held hostage by their QB situation, this team won’t reach its full fantasy or NFL potential.
10. Bye-bye Brock
After spending a lot of draft capital, the Houston Texans were able to replace Osweiler with Rookie QB Deshaun Watson. Brock’s 5.8 Y/A, 15 TDs and 16 INTs held the offense back in a major way in 2016. Even with Tom Savage as the starter, just about every player in that offense will have room to improve their fantasy numbers this year. The sole exception is the Texans TEs who should be avoided. Osweiler targeted the TE position on a whopping 31% of his throws. For some perspective, in 2015 12.5% of the Texans’ targets went to TEs and 10.6% did in 2014.
11. Double D’s
“Exotic Smashmouth” was fun for a year, but it seems the Titans may be done with that concept after looking at their offseason moves. They added WR Corey Davis with the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft and former Jet and Bronco Eric Decker in free agency. Pair that with the growth QB Marcus Mariota showed already in year two, and you have the makings of plenty of fantasy goodness in store for this offense even if the running back TDs(17) come down a bit.
12. Injury Luck
After missing ten games over the last two years, Andrew Luck had offseason surgery to repair a nagging shoulder injury. Luck should be back to 2014 form once he fully recovers. Currently, he is still on the PUP list and has not been cleared to practice. The longer he goes without participating in camp and the preseason, the more concerned about drafting him and his Colts teammates you should be.
13. All Charged Up
Injuries rocked the San Diego skill players last season as WRs Keenan Allen and Steve Johnson and RBs Branden Oliver, Kenneth Farrow, Melvin Gordon and Danny Woodhead all finished the year on IR or unable to play. Gordon, Oliver, and Allen should all be ready to go for the now “Los Angeles” Chargers in 2017, but health continues to be a problem for the team. Their first round pick, WR Mike Williams, is already dealing with a back injury that will keep him off the field for much if not all of his rookie campaign, and 2nd rounder and presumptive starter at G Forrest Lamp will miss the year with a torn ACL. If the Bolts can stay out of the trainer’s room, their fantasy potential is enormous with an ascending defense and veteran QB Phillip Rivers at the helm. If not, draft LA Chargers at your own risk.
14. More than a Gadget
Drafting Patrick Mahomes and Kareem Hunt this year show how the Chiefs are going younger at the skill positions. Jeremy Maclin leaving Kansas City has left a void at WR1 for the Chiefs as well. We all know Travis Kelce, last year’s TE1, is the top target for Alex Smith, but there’s room for more fantasy value. Enter Tyreek Hill. The second-year wideout had 12 total touchdowns in 2016 and could have an even larger role with the likes of Chris Conley and Albert Wilson anticipated starters. There are those who compare Hill to Tavon Austin and Cordarrelle Patterson as cautionary tales for fantasy owners, but Hill is a better receiver and route-runner than both. For more takes on Tyreek Hill, check out this TFA Throwdown between @FantasyWrath13 and myself. http://www.thefantasyauthority.com/redraft/tfathrowdown-tyreek-hill-vs-golden-tate/
15. Marshawn’s Back, Back Again
Lynchy’s back, tell your friends! After taking a year off from football, the former Bill and Seahawk has decided to play for his hometown Raiders. The 12 TDs from now Viking Latavius Murray are up for grabs in an offense that returns all of its key players from 2016. Lynch is primed to return to his glory days as a fantasy RB1 on the field and in our hearts behind one of the best lines in football, as long as he can stay healthy. The last time we saw the Skittles enthusiast, he played less than half of the 2015 season and had his worst yards per carry average since 2010.
16. Upside Trending Down
The Broncos fantasy outlook saw a serious dip last season after the departure of both Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler. Both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders had the lowest yardage totals and TD totals since playing with Manning. Though some of that can be attributed to key injuries in the RB and OL groups, much of it was due to the consistent but often conservative play of QB Trevor Siemian. He was named the starter over Paxton Lynch, former first rounder, once again this August. From a coaching perspective, a steady “game manager” QB meshes well will the Denver defense, but for fantasy, Siemian could impose a ceiling on this offense fantasy owners won’t be happy with.