Every year, there are certain positions on certain teams that are unsettled heading into training camp. These are battles that savvy fantasy football players will keep an eye on as you never know who is going to be a sleeper pick that wins you your league.
San Francisco 49ers QB: Blaine Gabbert, Colin Kaepernick, Jeff Driskel
The 49ers have experienced so much turnover since their Super Bowl run in the 2011-2012 season. Jim Harbaugh was fired, Jim Tomsula was hired and fired, Colin Kaepernick regressed from his remarkable playoff run, tried to reinvigorate the QB position by bringing in former 1st round pick Blaine Gabbert, and finally the 49ers desperately hired former Eagles coach Chip Kelly.
Under Kelly in Philadelphia, the Eagles were a fairly prolific offense. The Eagles were 12th in 2015, 5th in 2014, and 2nd in 2013 in total yards, all while Chip Kelly was the head coach in Philadelphia. More importantly in passing yards per game, the Eagles ranked 12th in 2015, 6th in 2014, and 9th in 2013. Kelly is a coach who’s offensive philosophy revolves around the up-tempo offense and easy reads and throws for the quarterback. Nick Foles had an amazing 2013 with in Philly with Kelly as his coach, posting a 27:2 TD:INT ratio in only 13 games. As well as his passing production, Foles ran 57 times for 221 yards and 3 TDs, for a TD total of 30 TDs and only 4 turnovers. With this pedigree of producing QB stats with volume and easier reads, I expect the San Francisco QB who wins the job to produce low-end QB 2 numbers (QB 20-24) with their rushing abilities and Kelly’s simplified system.
Out of Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick, I would prefer Gabbert to win the starting 49ers QB job. Gabbert has the pedigree, 10th overall in 2011, over Kaepernick, 36th overall in the same draft and never had a chance to sit and adjust to the NFL out of college coming from the spread offense of the University of Missouri. Kaepernick got that chance, coming from the pistol offense of Nevada, when he didn’t start his first game until the middle of the 2012 season, when he replaced Alex Smith and ran his way to the Super Bowl. Gabbert seemed to lose all his confidence after being thrust into the Jaguars’ starting role in Week 2 of the 2011 season after being decimated behind their porous offensive line. Gabbert spent 3 years in Jacksonville and went to San Francisco. After becoming the starter in San Francisco in the middle of 2015, Gabbert posted what was easily his best season as a starter. In 8 games Gabbert passed for 2,031 yards, 10 TDs, 7 INTs, 7.20 yards per attempt, and completed 63.1% of his passes, 5 percentage points above his previous best. He also was a very productive rusher, running 32 times for 185 yards, 1 TD, 5.8 YPC, with 2 fumbles through 8 games. This works out to 129.74 points based off of standard QB scoring (4 pts/TD), and by extrapolating these numbers over a full season Blaine Gabbert would have finished the season as the #17 quarterback in fantasy! With these numbers and the increased number of plays that a Chip Kelly offense runs, the Eagles ran 10 more plays per game than the 49ers in 2015, Gabbert should be given every opportunity to succeed in Kelly’s offense. Gabbert is currently being drafted as the 35th QB and 295th overall, which is just crazy for a QB with top 20 potential.
Kaepernick, despite playing in 9 games, was nowhere near as productive as Gabbert in 2015. Kaep passed for 1,615 yards, 6 TDs, 5 INTs, 6.62 yards per attempt, and completed 59% of his passes, second lowest of his career. His rushing, his strong suit, was only slightly more productive than Gabbert, rushing for 256 yards on 45 attempts, 5.7 YPC, and 1 TD while fumbling 4 times. His 110.2 points were 20 less than Blaine and if extrapolated over 16 games, A) He would have been a bad QB, and B) He would have finished 22nd and what would be 39.5 points less than Gabbert, 2.5 fantasy points per game.
When I look at all the stats and from what I saw watching 49ers games last year, Gabbert was easily the better QB and seems to fit Chip Kelly’s system the best. When Blaine Gabbert wins this job, I expect him to produce QB 2 numbers and be a great streamer or DFS play based off of his matchups. Glancing at the 49ers’ schedule, Week 7 (Tampa Bay), Week 9 (Saints), Week 15 (Atlanta), look to be the easiest passing matchups the 49ers will face as they play the toughest schedule in the NFL in 2016.
2016 Fantasy Outlook, Gabbert: Top 20 QB in PPG, Late Round QB target
2016 Fantasy Outlook, Kaepernick: Very Very Late QB 3/4 in 2 QB/Superflex league because could be a starter
Cleveland Browns QB: Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown, Cody Kessler
Oh, how the mighty have fallen! The Washington Redskins traded a king’s ransom to the Los Angeles Rams (then St. Louis) for the right to select Robert Griffin III in 2012. The electric, Heisman trophy winner took over the NFL in 2012, completing 65.6% of his 393 passes for 3,200 yards for 20 TDs and only 5 INTs, while rushing 120 times for 815 yards and 7 TDs on his way to winning Rookie of the Year. Then in the playoffs against the Seattle Seahawks, Griffin went down with a torn ACL/LCL and rushed back from the injury. After returning eventually, Griffin was named the starter until the injury bug continued to bite and he was benched for Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy on separate occasions. After his fall from grace in Washington, Robert Griffin III was released and signed a deal with the Cleveland Browns.
After working Griffin out in Cleveland, Hue Jackson raved about Griffin’s workout, saying “it felt like the Earth moved beneath my feet.” The Browns then signed Griffin to join the older veteran, Josh McCown, in the quarterback room, and drafted Cody Kessler out of USC in the third round. This pick was interesting as Kessler was frequently compared to Andy Dalton during the pre-draft process, the quarterback that Hue Jackson developed into a top 10 QB during his years in Cincinnati.
Let’s start with the player that shook Hue with all of his skills during his free agency workout. Robert Griffin III brings something very few QBs in the NFL have, rushing ability. Rushing ability is a skill that provides quarterbacks with safe floors and huge upsides. The only problems with RG III is that A) The Browns suck, B) Griffin hasn’t exactly been his old self since 2012 and his torn ACL, and C) You need to be able to throw the ball well, which requires weapons that the Browns may or may not have. They also have a weak offensive line which is a huge question mark, who knows if they can keep Griffin upright throughout the season. Griffin never was a particularly prolific passer in Washington never passing for more than 3,203 yards or 20 TDs.
Griffin’s main competition during training camp will be a QB who could not be more different from Robert Griffin III. Josh McCown is most definitely not a scrambler, he is a pocket passer and was very proficient in 2015 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. McCown was a legit starting QB in 2015, completing 63.7% of his 292 passes for 2,109 yards, 12 TDs, and only 4 INTs in 8 games. But at 37 years old, McCown is not a franchise QB, especially for a young, rebuilding team, making it smart for the Browns to start RG III or Cody Kessler and keep McCown around in the event that RG III gets injured or as a trade chip.
Cody Kessler was the third round QB that the Browns selected after signing Robert Griffin. This was a very intriguing draft pick as Kessler was frequently compared to Any Dalton, the QB Hue Jackson left behind in Cincinnati. Through Weeks 1-13, Dalton was the QB 5 in fantasy points, putting up a star season before breaking his thumb. However, in 2016 I’m not confident in Kessler to be a solid QB, as very few rookie QBs can put up QB 1 seasons, and Kessler was not a highly regarded prospect and he lacks the weapons Dalton had at his disposal (AJ Green, Marvin Jones, Gio Bernard, Tyler Eifert).
For 2016, the much maligned Robert Griffin III is the Browns QB I want to win the job for his own value for many of the same reasons I like Blaine Gabbert. His rushing ability gives him a reasonable floor plus huge upside. Even with this upside Griffin is probably undraftable in a standard league, but remains an intriguing end of the bench option in a 2 QB or Superflex league.
2016 Fantasy Outlook, Robert Griffin III: Rushing ability makes him top 26/28 QB
2016 Fantasy Outlook, McCown: Intriguing QB 3 stash, was good when he played
2016 Fantasy Outlook, Kessler: Ewww, Could start a couple of late season games, likely unstartable
Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles QB: Jared Goff, Case Keenum and Sam Bradford, Carson Wentz, Chase Daniel
These two teams are not in a competition exactly, but have the #1 and #2 overall draft picks in Jared Goff and Carson Wentz respectively. Jared Goff is the expected starter in Los Angeles, but going into training camp Jeff Fischer had this to say about Goff, “We’ll start him when he’s ready. That’s what I’ve been saying, and that’s what I told him and them [Goff’s teammates]. Is it the opener? That I don’t know. We’ve got that option [with Keenum] and can easily go that route and be good with that. We’re not locked in there,” via Yahoo. So while the Rams are pretending to have a competition, most of the football world expects that Goff will be the starter in Week 1. If (when) Jared Goff is starting, he doesn’t come into a great situation and is around QB 24 or so, a very low QB 2.
The Eagles are in a much different situation. Wentz came from North Dakota State, a D III school, where he was a two year starter for the Bison. The Eagles spent quite a bit of money to bring Sam Bradford back, signing him to a 2 year/$35 million deal with $22 million guaranteed. Then they also spent big for a backup QB, signing Chase Daniel to a 3 year/$21 million deal with $12 million guaranteed. After all of that the Eagles packaged the 8th overall pick, the 77th overall, the 100th overall, a 2017 1st round pick, and a 2018 2nd round pick for the #2 overall pick and 2017 4th rounder to acquire Carson Wentz who they hope becomes their franchise QB. It makes sense for the Eagles to sit Wentz for at least the first year. As an unfinished project, throwing him into to the fire immediately would not be the best idea. Bradford should start the season as the starter, and unless both he and Chase Daniel crater Wentz shouldn’t see the field for significant playing time in 2016. Whoever the starter in Philadelphia winds up being will have some intriguing weapons at his disposal; Jordan Matthews, Reuben Randle, Ryan Mathews, and Darren Sproles. Their new coach, Doug Pederson, was the offensive coordinator in Kansas City where he produced the QB 15, 18, and 12 seasons with Alex Smith in KC. Pederson doesn’t run a high flying offense, but it is a solid and consistent offense that produces consistent quarterbacks. I expect the Philadelphia starter to hover around the QB 18 weekly and be consistent in that production.
2016 Fantasy Outlook, Goff: QB 25 or so, target in 2 QB leagues, undrafted in standard
2016 Fantasy Outlook, Keenum: Bleh, you don’t need or want him
2016 Fantasy Outlook, Bradford: Top 18 upside in PPG as the starter, probably undrafted in standard
2016 Fantasy Outlook, Daniel: See Case Keenum
2016 Fantasy Outlook, Wentz: Outside top 32 QBs, not much starter time this year
Baltimore Ravens RB: The Ravens might have quite a few of these positions battles, as they don’t have much of their starting offensive lineup settled. At the running back position, the Ravens have Justin Forsett, Javorius Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Terrence West, and even Trent Richardson, ha, all jumbled together. In his recent 53 man roster projection the Ravens ESPN reporter, Jamison Hensley, projected the Ravens to carry 4 backs into the 2016 season, Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, and Terrence West.
Forsett, the old man in the group at 30, was a surprise breakout in 2014 posting the RB 8 season in PPR. He followed that season up with 151 carries for 641 yards, 2 TDs, while catching 31 passes for 151 yards in 10 games before breaking his arm. While many of his fantasy owners regarded him as a bust due to the injury, he was on pace for RB 12 numbers through Week 10 of the 2015 season. Javorius Allen replaced Forsett after his injury and ran 137 times for 514 yards and 1 TD, but that’s not where Allen was a monster. In the receiving game, he caught 45 passes for 353 yards and 2 TDs while only being a starter for 7 games. All of this late season production left Allen as the #3 RB from Weeks 11-17 in PPR leagues. Unfortunately for Allen, the Ravens then went out and drafted Kenneth Dixon in the 4th round, another back who profiles as a receiver and decent between the tackles runner.
Ugh…Can you say RBBC (Running Back By Committee)?
As fantasy owners, we need to decipher how this situation will play out in 2016. Trestman recently said in The Baltimore Sun, “We’re always looking at ourselves as a team that should be able to run the ball first. That’s just the way we want to play it, and everything starts with the physicality of our run game, and the physicality of our runner. That’s how we coach offense here, and everything starts there.” However, the key thing in the summer months for fantasy players is to avoid coach speak. Which is unfortunately what this comment seems to be. Last year, as the offensive coordinator in Baltimore, the Ravens ranked 2nd in pass attempts only to the Lions, not to mention that his offenses in Chicago (2013-2014) both ranked in the bottom 10 in rush play percentage. Nothing in the Ravens offense or defense leads me to believe that Trestman will start to implement a run-heavy attack. Trestman always makes this right for fantasy RBs in PPR as he gives his RBs plenty of opportunity for receptions, but then again it isn’t good for predicting when all three of the main backs can all catch the ball well. In 2014, as fantasy owners well know, Matt Forte set a NFL record for RB receptions with 102 while amassing 266 carries. Then in 2015 Forsett caught 31 passes with 151 carries (10 games) before his injury, and his replacement, Buck Allen, had 45 receptions and 137 carries, a combined total of 76 receptions and 288 carries in line with what the 2014 Bears offense produced. That’s enough touches (364) to split between two running backs, but not enough for 3.
As I see the Ravens’ backfield shaking out, I think Forsett starts the season as the starter and is undervalued as the RB 41 and the 114th overall player in our Re-Draft ADP. He’s on track to be the early season starter and was on pace for 1,000 yards rushing last year. I’m not projecting that many yards but 800 rushing yards, 5 TDs, 250 receiving yards, and 2 TDs for Forsett would be a perfectly fine stat line, assuming 30 receptions, would have been enough to be the RB 15 with 190 PPR points. For Buck Allen, I like him to rush for a lot less, maybe 200 and 2 with 400 receiving yards and 2 TDs on 45 receptions, putting him around RB 40/45. Kenneth Dixon is the most difficult guy to project in this offense and what his role will be. For Dixon, the 4th round rookie, he seems likely to be a balance of the two other backs in Baltimore, with 500 rushing with 4 TDs, and another 300 yards and a couple of TDs.
2016 Fantasy Outlook, Forsett: Top 30 RB, severely undervalued, 8th-10th round value pick
2016 Fantasy Outlook, Dixon: Waiver wire pickup, overdrafted at the moment (Going before Forsett)
2016 Fantasy Outlook, Allen: Underdrafted at RB 55, Top 45 RB especially in PPR
2016 Fantasy Outlook, West: Annoying goal line vulture, undraftable
TE-wise any team that needs to determine their TE through this training camp battle likely won’t have a fantasy relevant TE barring an unexpected surprise. The Ravens TE room consists of Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle (Suspended 10 games), and Dennis Pitta (Injury-Prone). None of these TEs will have seasonal value, but occasionally one will catch a TD and have a good week. If I had to take one in a very deep league Watson would be my target. He produced last year and could theoretically have a role as a safety blanket for Joe Flacco.
Miami Dolphins RB:
Really Arian Foster? Out of all the places in the NFL, you go to the Miami Dolphins? First of all, I thought you wanted to win a ring, and second now fantasy owners have one more RBBC to deal with, and I assure you, we’re all overjoyed at that.
In Miami, we now have Arian Foster, Jay Ajayi, and Kenyan Drake. Prior to the Foster signing, Ajayi was expected to be the primary two down back with Drake as the third-down receiving back, especially with the reports of Ajayi struggling to catch the ball in OTAs via The Miami Herald. The Foster signing complicates everyone’s role. In 2015, Foster lost much of his effectiveness as a runner during his healthy 4 game stretch, rushing 63 times for 163 yards, and 1 TD, with an abysmal 2.6 YPC, well below league average. But he was plenty productive as a receiver, catching 22 passes for 227 yards, and 2 TDs, while averaging 10.3 yards per reception and 56.8 receiving yards per game as opposed to 40.8 as a runner. Coupling his production as a runner and receiver in 2015, as well as his injury history, it makes sense for the Dolphins to use Foster in a complementary role in receiving situations and as a situational runner. Theoretically, this type of situation would only harm Kenyan Drake, but as your parents always said, “Actions speak louder than words.” The Dolphins have been pretty clear in their intent to find a replacement or complement for Ajayi this offseason, whether by trying to sign CJ Anderson to an expensive offer sheet, or by taking an extensive look at Ezekiel Elliot pre-draft, not to mention actually drafting Kenyan Drake, and eventual signing of Foster.
Foster’s ADP in Re-draft leagues, 139th overall (46th RB) will certainly rise in the coming weeks, especially as the “best shape of his life” reports come out of camp. But I’m waiting to see which will change more, Ajayi’s ADP plummeting from 63rd overall (RB 22) or Foster’s rising. With this signing and knowing the fantasy industry, many fantasy owners are going to overreact to this news pushing Foster too far up their draft board without compensating for him being a near 30-year-old RB coming off an Achilles injury as well as a multitude of other soft tissue issues. Smart owners will take advantage of this snatching up Ajayi at his discounted price, because once (not if) Foster gets injured that Ajayi stock is going to bounce right back.
In dynasty, this should not affect the long-term value of Ajayi or Kenyan Drake, as the deal is for one year. However, with worry over Jay Ajayi’s knee, I’m just annoyed that there is a possible stud running back with legit injury concerns who could lose a year of his value. On the other hand this could be how Ajayi is treated through his entire career, never being able to be a featured back because a team is worried about his knee blowing up. I’d much rather have the Dolphins ride him into the ground, trying to see if he can hold up or not, than deal with another RBBC.
2016 Fantasy Outlook, Ajayi: Drops a tier, about RB 25, Tier 6, Gore/Abdullah range
2016 Fantasy Outlook, Foster: Viable FLEX for PPR in the 6 games he plays
2016 Fantasy Outlook, Drake: Priority FA in event of injury, no standalone value
Miami Dolphins WRs: On the Dolphins this isn’t necessarily a competition for a roster spot or job, it’s all about the target battle in Miami. Going into the NFL Draft the Dolphins WR corps consisted of slot receiver Jarvis Landry, deep threat Kenny Stills, and dynasty darling DeVante Parker. With this core most people assumed the Dolphins were set at WR, everyone that is except for the Dolphins themselves. The Dolphins spent a 2nd round pick on Jarvis Landry in 2014 as well as the 14th overall pick in 2015 on Parker, but that didn’t stop them from packaging the 186th overall, a 2017 3rd round pick, and a conditional 2017 4th round pick for the 86th overall pick, which they used to draft Leonte Carroo, a WR out of Rutgers.
In recent weeks on Twitter, there has been a blood war over Jarvis Landry. I have always acknowledged that he is not an elite athlete, but he is good enough as an athlete to do his job in Miami as the slot and underneath receiver. Jarvis Landry pretty much has a locked in target share hovering around 150 targets as Ryan Tannehill’s number one option and safety blanket. Even with this, I can’t see Jarvis Landry finishing as the WR 9 in PPR leagues as he did in 2015, with Devante Parker and Leonte Carroo providing more receiving options for Tannehill.
Speaking of Devante Parker, he has flown up draft boards since finishing the 2015 season strong. After this, Devante Parker is currently the 19th WR off the board in dynasty leagues, which is way too high for me. Parker produced decent numbers in 2015 and had many highlight plays, but most of these came from the slot. Parker’s problem with being successful as a outside NFL WR is his lack of release moves from press coverage. He developed one move in college that worked, but stopped working all the time in the NFL where he couldn’t “out-athlete” NFL corners. With his preseason/training camp injury in 2015, Parker missed valuable time to improve his releases and route running against NFL caliber corners. The Dolphins obviously aren’t confident in Parker’s ability to play outside with the drafting of Leonte Carroo.
Carroo fills an important role for the Dolphins as an outside downfield threat. The Dolphins were thrilled with the selection of Carroo, with the GM raving about Carroo, calling him “a target player” and “a guy who fills a need for us.” They talked about his versatility and how he can play inside, outside, downfield, and contribute right away. The Dolphins loved Carroo pre-draft and believe they added a solid player that can provide them with a multitude of skills.
All of the Dolphins WRs fill certain roles with their skillsets, but selecting the highest scorer each week is going to be a challenge. Even at the end of the year, who knows how this group will end up, with questions about the WRs and how Ryan Tannehill can support all of these receivers in a new offense.
2016 Fantasy Outlook, Landry: My favorite, WR 18-20 in PPR, low TD level, 4th rounder
2016 Fantasy Outlook, Parker: WR 30ish, Big plays will drive value, but unpredictable, 10-11th rounder
2016 Fantasy Outlook, Carroo: Undraftable in standard leagues, intriguing best ball guy
2016 Fantasy Outlook, Stills: As unpredictable as Mike Wallace, deep threat, undraftable
Pittsburgh Steelers Pass Catchers: The Steelers are another team with a muddled WR situation. Obviously Antonio Brown is their #1, but with Martavis Bryant’s suspension the Steelers are looking for another WR to step up. The Steelers are also looking for someone to step up into Heath Miller’s role with his retirement. The obvious candidate to take over for Miller when he was signed to a 4 year/$20 million dollar contract is Ladarius Green. Green was stuck in San Diego behind the ageless wonder Antonio Gates and never really got the opportunity to be the TE 1 there for an extended period of time. The one time Gates was absent from the lineup due to a suspension, Green was a great option for the Chargers. Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates, and Darrius Heyward-Bey are the other WRs present in Pittsburgh to help cover for the absence of Bryant and Miller. With the retirement of Miller and suspension for Bryant 110 Rec, 173 targets, 1,300 yards, and 8 TDs have been lost from the offense. Slotting Ladarius Green in for around 70 Rec, 850 yards, and 6 TDs is what many in the fantasy community are expecting from the athletic TE, leaving around 40 Rec, 450 yards, and 2 TDs to be split among the remaining guys.
Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates are the same types of player. Both are fast, combine burners that occasionally struggle with catching the ball, which I’ve heard is fairly important for a WR. This is what happened with the Carolina Panthers and Ted Ginn in 2015. The Panthers lost a big time target hog, Kelvin Benjamin, and someone had to step up. That person was Ted Ginn, a burner who struggles with consistently catching the ball (Coates/Bey). Ginn posted a career season living on the long ball catching 44 passes for 739 yards, and 10 TDs, all while leaving a couple of long touchdowns on the field. With the Pittsburgh Steelers loving to chuck the ball down the field, burners such as Coates or Heyward-Bey could fall into a Ted Ginn like season.
Heyward-Bey was much more productive than Coates during the 2015 season however this was by design. The Steelers were very vocal in their wish to “sit” Coates for the 2015 season and they did just that. Either one of these guys could fall into the type of season that Ginn had last year, however, I think it’s much more likely that Ladarius Green and my favorite to win this battle, Markus Wheaton, sweep up the lost production.
|Sammie Coates||Darrius Heyward-Bey||Markus Wheaton|
|6 games||16 games||16 games|
|1 Rec||21 Rec||44 Rec|
|11 yards||314 yards||749 yards|
|0 TDs||2 TDs||5 TDs|
|34 snaps (5.6 snaps/gm)||401 snaps (25.1 snaps/gm)||699 snaps (43.7 snaps/gm)|
Markus Wheaton was productive as a complementary receiver to Martavis Bryant and Antonio Brown in 2015, and I expect him to continue to build on his strong 2015 season as he receives more targets and looks from Ben Roethlisberger opposite of Antonio Brown. In our most recent Re-Draft ADP Wheaton is going off the board at WR 51 (110th overall). Normally I don’t have a problem with a specific player’s ADP, but Sammie Coates is the WR 56 (126th overall). This is crazy that the more productive WR, 40th in 2015 (Standard), is just 5 WRs ahead of his teammate who is all hype this offseason. I’m looking to acquire Wheaton in all leagues at his late 9th round price.
2016 Fantasy Outlook, Wheaton: Favorite of trio, top 35 WR, undervalued
2016 Fantasy Outlook, Heyward-Bey: Undervalued, interesting late round upside pick
2016 Fantasy Outlook, Coates: Least favorite, but big play potential
Now that football season is upon us and training camp approaches, teams will start to solidify their teams and roles for players. It is up to a smart fantasy owner to keep an eye on these battles and know who is the savvy pickup or late round sleeper.