Football season is finally here! More importantly, fantasy football season is here. The more dedicated(obsessed) of you have been closely monitoring the trade, FA, draft and injury news throughout the 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 NFC changes you need to know before you make any draft picks in 2017.
16 NFC Changes You Need To Know
1. Honeymoon in NYC
Brandon Marshall is back and healthy in New York but now with the boys in blue. Last we saw Marshall, he was stuck in a Jets offense helmed by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Bryce Petty. Eli Manning is a serious upgrade over that ilk, and Odell Beckham is the best running mate Marshall’s ever had. He has finished as the leading WR on his team in all but two seasons: his rookie year, and last year. Obviously, I don’t expect him to outscore Beckham, but drafters are underestimating the amount of attention OBJ demands from the defense. This trickles down to receiving options like Sterling Shephard and Evan Engram as well. With a subpar offensive line and running game, the Giants are committed to maintaining a pass-first philosophy in their offense, and the addition of Marshall should help them garner even more success with it in 2017.
2. Doom in Dallas
Last year’s rushing leader carried the Cowboys to the playoffs and many fantasy owners to championships in 2016. Ezekiel Elliot won’t be doing that this year while suspended for the first six games of the season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Elliot is appealing his suspension, but as of today, he will be unavailable for the first 7 weeks of fantasy with the Cowboys bye in Week 6. This team is uniquely qualified to handle the situation with Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris ready to fill in. The two logged a combined five 1000 rushing seasons. Where you should draft Zeke depends on your own personal philosophy, but the Cowboys could be slow starters with a litany of defensive suspensions as well.
3. Wentz’ New Weapons
The Eagles are giving QB Carson Wentz every opportunity to succeed. Philadelphia signed Alshon Jeffrey, Torrey Smith and LeGarrette Blount to help the offense now and invested in WR Mack Hollins, RB Donnel Pumphrey, and WR Shelton Gibson. The already above average defense also received a flood of talent at all three levels. Even RT Lane Johnson should be back for 16 games after missing 10 last year to suspension. When he played, Wentz was on pace to be the QB4 overall for fantasy. I doubt he’ll finish that high in 2017, but if he improves his mechanics, don’t be surprised if there are several Eagles on championship rosters come January.
4. Pryor Success
With the loss of WRs Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson in free agency, a void needed to be filled. The Redskins added former Brown and former QB Terrelle Pryor to help mitigate some of that loss. It took 140 targets in the Cleveland offense just to get Pryor to 1000 yards. Obviously, the Redskins offense and Kirk Cousins are serious upgrades over what he had in 2016, and his 5 total touchdowns a season ago seem like a floor in the highly potent Washington offense. If Jamison Crowder can take the next step, Josh Doctson can break out and Jordan Reed can stay healthy, Pryor should lead an offense that could be even better than it has been.
5. R-E-D Z-O-N-E
Find out what it means to me. Last year, it mostly meant throwing it to Anquan Boldin out of the slot, or Theo Riddick out of the backfield. Those two alone combined for 13 of Matthew Stafford’s 24 passing TDs in 2016 and 10 of his 16 in the red zone. Riddick will return, though much of his duties should now go to a healthy Ameer Abdullah. The change comes in the retirement of Anquan Boldin. Rookie wideout Kenny Golladay is garnering a lot of buzz after a strong preseason. WRs Golden Tate and Marvin Jones surely have room to improve their target share in the red zone. The most likely candidate to replace Boldin’s scores is the TE Eric Ebron. Though he hasn’t been used like one in the past, with just one red zone score in 2016. The 6’4” 250lb tower certainly has the size to be used like one, and it’s not like he didn’t score 5 times in 2015. Someone will need to take over Boldin’s workload or this offense could look anemic at the goal line in 2017.
6. The 2016 Todd Gurley Award Goes To…
Jordan Howard. Congratulations Chicago! You have a very talented running back heading into his second season in an offense with a significant drop-off in QB play from a year ago. You also have an abysmal WR core that will vie for the league’s worst in 2017 after already losing your best in Cameron Meredith. The Bears offensive line is certainly better this year than the Rams’ was last season, but the similarities are obvious. The difference is Howard is going in the second round while Gurley went for a top three price tag in 2016. Howard’s price is appropriate for how his risk and talent balance out, but the wasteland that is the Chicago offense could end up starving its one asset, should defenses force Mike Glennon to try to beat them through the air.
7. To Lose a Legend
With the looming questions surrounding last year’s first round pick at WR Laquon Treadwell’s development and a QB room full of 2018 free agents with health concerns, the Vikings are attempting to replace a legend at RB. Though Adrian Peterson has left for the Big Easy, Rookie Dalvin Cook has been turning heads all offseason. He will be the first to tackle the lead back role with FA signing Latavius Murray coming off of a March ankle surgery. Veteran Jerick McKinnon could still steal some passing-downs work early in the year, but this will be Cook’s job to lose behind a much healthier and much improved offensive line.
8. Finally a Running Back
Ty Montgomery has an opportunity to be the lead running back in an Aaron Rodgers-led offense with Eddie Lacy now in Seattle. After spending last season as a real life FLEX option for the Packers, Montgomery has gotten an entire offseason working with the RBs. Green Bay did draft three running backs this year, but none earlier than fourth rounder Jamaal Williams. Over the last five weeks of the season, Montgomery averaged just 12.4 touches per game, but 16.54 points per game in PPR. That rate could be unsustainable over a whole season, or it could just be the tip of the fantasy ice burg with Montgomery.
9. A Shift in Philosophy
What do you do if your QB has offseason shoulder surgery? If you’re the Indianapolis Colts, you marginally improve the defense and hope that solves your star’s health concerns. If you’re the Carolina Panthers though, you aggressively add weapons to the passing game to diversify your short and intermediate attack. Namely, you draft at worst, one of the NFL’s best third-down backs in Christian McCaffery with the eighth overall pick. Young added a versatile threat at WR in Curtis Samuel who has drawn comparisons to Golden Tate. Throw in a road-grader in Guard Taylor Moton, a four-year starter at Western Michigan. Finally, let your most effective deep threat over the past two seasons, Ted Ginn, go to the division rival New Orleans Saints. It is yet to be seen whether or not this run first, a quick passing offense will work. Cam Newton has not typically been praised for his touch on short passes. If Newton can adjust to taking fewer hits and being more conservative with his throws, this offense will produce fantasy numbers closer to 2015 than 2016.
10. Taking the Top Off
The marrying of WR DeSean Jackson and the Tampa Bay offense seemed fated to happen. Jameis Winston needed a deep threat to draw double teams away from Mike Evans; Jackson needed a new team. Though this will take coverage and attention away from Evans, it will also take targets away from him. Without the massive volume, Evans will take a step back from his WR1 finish a year ago. Rookies Chris Godwin and OJ Howard have been added to Winston’s arsenal, and that’s potentially where the fantasy value lies. Everything is certainly set up for him to succeed, especially when RB Doug Martin returns from his early season suspension. If Winston does indeed make another jump, the potential for this offense is enormous.
11. A Run-First Offense?
A current three game suspension for WR Willie Snead is looming over the Saints Week 1 game plan. Every year it seems we hear offseason reports that Sean Payton would like to run the ball more often in the following season. This year, it’s finally set up for Payton to follow through with it. Signing Adrian Peterson, giving up a 2018 second round pick to draft Alvin Kamara, and drafting T Ryan Ramczyk all point toward being able to run the ball more effectively and more often in 2017. With Snead out, it makes, even more, sense to start the season with heavy doses of AP and Mark Ingram. Which player from the Saints backfield to start week-to-week could be a nightmarish headache, but there will be plenty of value in this offense.
12. Shanahan to Sarkisian
As Kyle Shanahan leaves for greener or more accurately golden pastures, Steve Sarkisian will have very large shoes to fill in Atlanta’s offense. Shanahan helped the Falcons break all kinds of offensive records, including some held by Kurt Warner’s “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams. The Falcons also had the most fantasy points of any team’s skill position players in 2016. A regression is coming, but will they still be a top five offense? Obviously, RB Devonta Freeman and WR Julio Jones are fantasy studs, but players like Tevin Coleman and Taylor Gabriel will hit a steep cliff in terms of fantasy value if the Falcons or Matt Ryan take a step back in 2017.
13. “Skinny” Lacy
QB Russell Wilson once again set career highs in attempts, completions, and passing yards. The Seahawks finished in the top 10 in passing yards for the first time in the Russell Wilson Era. For the second year in a row, they were bounced out of the playoffs by a team with a better offense. Going back to a run-first or at least balanced offense will help them compete with the other NFC powerhouses. Seattle returns a healthy Thomas Rawls and CJ Prosise at the RB position. They also brought it a slimmed-down FA Eddie Lacy and seventh round Rookie Chris Carson, who has flashed plenty during the preseason averaging over four yards per carry and scoring two touchdowns. Lacy and Rawls should eat into each other’s workload while leaving some passing downs for Prosise, but this backfield is very murky for fantasy. Unless someone gets hurt or vastly outperforms, we could be looking at a very productive, but very frustrating committee.
14. One Last Ride
The Arizona Cardinals had one of the best and most explosive offenses in the NFL two years ago. Last year’s campaign was marred by injuries to WR John Brown, QB Carson Palmer, and the downfall of WR Michael Floyd. Offensive line injuries also piled up as LT Jared Veldheer missed half the year and six different players started games on the right side of the line. Finally healthy, and with an injection of youth on defense, WR Larry Fitzgerald and Palmer might only have 2017 to show the NFL what they’re made of. John Brown could finally have a handle on his soft tissue injuries caused by his sickle cell trait. RB David Johnson could easily repeat as the RB1. This offense has so much potential, but Palmer could miss time or lose arm strength. Fitzgerald could slow down after Halloween this year instead of after Thanksgiving. Johnson’s massive workload could catch up to him too. This offense has several ways it could dry up quickly for fantasy.
15. Healthy, My Dear Watkins
After missing 11 games over the past two seasons, it seems Sammy Watkins has finally gotten past his nagging foot injury. Top that all off with new offensive Guru (Is he a guru at this point? Maybe a Wiz’ Kid) Sean McVay calling the plays and 2017 being a contract year for Watkins, and you have the makings of a potential WR1. Much like his old teammate LeSean McCoy, Todd Gurley will demand plenty of attention from the defense, opening up opportunities for Watkins and others. Those “others” will be Rookie WR Cooper Kupp, who has drawn praise all offseason for his knowledge of the playbook and consistent hands, and reunited teammate Robert Woods who has played with Watkins in Buffalo for Watkins’ entire career. It all hinges on second-year QB Jared Goff taking the next step or at least a step up from last year’s performance.
16. Started from the Bottom
Posting the seventh worst season in terms of offensive fantasy points has its positive side. There’s plenty of room to go up! The aforementioned Kyle Shanahan will be taking over head coaching duties in San Francisco this year. He brings with him old friends QB Brian Hoyer and WR Pierre Garçon. They put up the best years of their careers, fantasy or otherwise, under Shanahan. At the same time, both players are closer to the end of their respective careers than the beginning. Shanahan increased the value of RBs like Devonta Freeman, Alfred Morris, and Arian Foster. We can expect similar results from the likes of RB Carlos Hyde, who still produced an RB15 season in 2017 despite missing three games and playing with a 2-14 dumpster fire of a team. This offense has plenty of potential given Shanahan’s track record and the few talented players they do have.
If you missed the 16 AFC Changes, be sure to check them out them out.