In this segment, some of our top fantasy contributors will give their takes on draft prep questions that many fantasy owners are just burning to know. These should give you some players that we recommend you target in your upcoming drafts, and others you may want to shy away from drafting.
Who is a sleeper you are really high on?
-Kevin Steele (@FantasyWrath13) – Vance McDonald, SF
After being taken in the second-round of the 2013 draft, Vance McDonald finally showed some promise down the stretch in 2015. McDonald was part of one of the best TE draft classes in recent memory with guys like Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce, Tyler Eifert, and Jordan Reed. However, McDonald is the only player on the list who has yet to discover his talent. That is until the 49ers shipped veteran TE Vernon Davis off to the Broncos at the trade deadline. Over his last seven games, he finished as TE8 in standard scoring leagues with 23 receptions on 35 targets for 280 yards and three touchdowns. If you look at his production from a season long clip, he would have finished as a top 10 fantasy TE.
Heading into 2016, the sky is the limit for the young TE. With Chip Kelly and his high-volume offense, he should see a heavy dose of targets thrown his way, especially when you look at the state of the wide receiver position for 2016. San Francisco’s only proven option is Torrey Smith, so McDonald could easily see 100+ targets, which would lend himself to TE1 upside. Given his current ADP of TE29 (undrafted) according to FantasyPros, he makes for a late-round steal come draft day.
-Jennifer Smith (@FF_female920) – Travis Benjamin, SD
I feel like a broken record about this guy, and his ADP has dropped in the last few weeks from mid-ninth to the beginning of the 10th. For a WR2 on a pass-heavy offense across from Keenan Allen, that’s a steal. Maybe I’m wrong, but something seems to be propelling his ADP downward and I’ll take advantage of that every time. Even with the merry-go-round that was Cleveland’s QB situation in 2015, Benjamin caught 68 passes for 966 yards and five TDs. He left the Browns stating that he wanted a better QB and he got one in Philip Rivers. Rivers threw more passes last season than any other QB (662), so there are plenty of targets to go around. I consider Benjamin a deep threat with speed and am excited to see how he meshes with the Chargers offense.
-Jeff Donovan (@JeffDonovan_FF) – Alex Collins, SEA
The Seahawks spared no expense at running back during the draft by adding C.J Prosise (Third round), Alex Collins (Fifth round), and Zac Brooks (Seventh round). How will it all shake out?
More of a deep sleeper, Alex Collins (AR) sits in a battle with all-time legend Christine Michael for No. 3 duties in Seattle behind incumbent UDFA Thomas Rawls and 3rd round peer C.J. Prosise. From an outside perspective, Collins appears to be a long shot for initial work in Seattle’s run-first offense that has been such an asset within fantasy circles. That may not be the case, however.
The entire rehab chatter has been a mystifying offseason conundrum for deciphering Rawls’ value and outlook for 2016. There’s no doubt that his early-season status is up in the air, despite optimistic June updates from Pete Carroll and a self-declared report of being on schedule for week one. If Rawls enters 2016 healthy, Collins immediately loses some oomph. On the other hand, though, if Rawls is unable to participate early, then Collins immediately finds himself in a possible heavy workload situation. Although it’s no mystery that Pete Carroll and John Schneider have big plans for C.J. Prosise, he has been unable to participate in most of the offseason activities due to a hip issue. Furthermore, does anyone really think that Christine Michael is going to fit into the equation?
Over the past four seasons, the Seahawks have finished (3rd, 4th, 1st, & 3rd) in rush attempts. Volume is one of the main factors when evaluating a fantasy running back, and though Seattle looks to be transitioning to a more pass-friendly approach, the underlying ground and pound philosophy will remain a focal point. The lead back in Seattle’s offense should be set to see upwards of 200 carries, even in a partial committee. Seattle is no stranger to allowing inexperienced players an opportunity to contribute early, as we’ve seen with Rawls, Wilson, Lockett, and many others on the defensive side of the ball. In addition, Seattle has worked with positive game script in 35 of their last 48 regular season games. I’ll be heavily targeting Collins as a late round flier, more so in standard leagues due to Prosise’s above average receiving capability. The Seahawks high-volume rushing attack makes Collins a high upside splash play.
-Sam Holt (@SamanthaRHolt) – Kamar Aiken, BAL
Not an elaborate or fancy pick, but there’s serious potential. Baltimore struggled with injury issues in 2015. Perriman’s partial tear to his ACL leaves an uncertain timeline for his return. Steve Smith is tougher than nails but he is coming back from multiple injuries, most notably a torn Achilles. This leaves Aiken as the veteran receiver and #1 option.
-Zack Marmar (@Leagueedge) – Ryan Mathews, PHI
I actually have Mathews finishing as an RB1 this year. The only thing that I am hesitant about is his injury history. It is a real thing, as the guy can never seem to play a full season. However, at his ADP somewhere between rounds 5 and 7, I think you could do way worse. He is more proven than backs like Jay Ajayi and Matt Jones who are going around the same spot, and both of those players have much better offensive options surrounding them.
New head coach Doug Pederson figures to replicate the offense he ran in Kansas City, which was entirely through his running backs. Last year, Kansas City’s run/pass ratio was the 6th in the NFL, meaning only 5 teams ran more than they did. Mind you, this was without Jamaal Charles for most of the season. Philadelphia’s defense is underrated, if they can put the pieces together and stay healthy, they can be at least in the top half of the NFL, meaning Ryan Mathews can get 15+ touches per game assuming the Eagles can play in close games. There also just isn’t much else in the receiving game. Their best options may be Jordan Matthews, Zach Ertz, and Darren Sproles. I’m buying Mathews at his ADP, and even if he only gives me 12 games, I’m betting he makes the most of those 12.
New Eagles head coach Doug Pederson figures to replicate the offense he ran in Kansas City, which was entirely through his running backs. Last year, Kansas City’s run/pass ratio was the 6th in the NFL, meaning only 5 teams ran more than they did. Mind you, this was without Jamaal Charles for most of the season. Philadelphia’s defense is underrated, if they can put the pieces together and stay healthy, they can be at least in the top half of the NFL, meaning Ryan Mathews can get 15+ touches per game assuming the Eagles can play in close games. There also just isn’t much else in the receiving game. Their best options may be Jordan Matthews, Zach Ertz, and Darren Sproles. I’m buying Mathews at his ADP, and even if he only gives me 12 games, I’m betting he makes the most of those 12.
Who is one breakout player you think can outperform his current ADP?
-Kevin Steele (@FantasyWrath13) – Donte Moncrief, IND
I know, I know, who isn’t on Donte Moncrief this season? But that doesn’t change the fact that he deserves far more attention than that of what his current ADP is on FantasyPros (WR33). It’s not a secret that the 2015 Colts offense was nothing like any of us had anticipated. After adding Andre Johnson and Frank Gore to the offense, the sky was the limit but they never really made it off the ground. Of course, some of it could simply be explained by the absence of Andrew Luck due to multiple injuries. Luck only played in seven games last season, but during those games, Donte Moncrief was WR22 in standard scoring with 32 receptions on 51 targets for 351 yards and five touchdowns. He accounted for a target share of 28% which was just behind that of teammate T.Y. Hilton who received 33% of the team targets. He also received the 3rd-most RZ targets (13.5%) behind only Andre Johnson (FA), and TY Hilton.
Despite the horrendous 2015 season for the Colts offense, there is no reason to believe that they won’t rebound and regain the form that made them such an appealing fantasy offense. The Colts can certainly sustain two fantasy dynamos at WR, and without much behind Moncrief and Hilton besides second-year burner Phillip Dorsett, Moncrief is ripe for the picking as a breakout star in 2016.
-Jennifer Smith (@FF_female920) – Tyler Lockett, SEA
Locket’s ADP has remained steady around the end of the 7th in redraft leagues. He competed with Kearse last season and ended up tied with him for targets (71), but Seattle has recently named Lockett a starter and looks to give him an increased role in 2016. With an impressive overall catch rate of 71% and 100% (4/4) in the red zone, I don’t think he will have any trouble outplaying his current ADP. Coming off the board around players like Kevin White, Michael Crabtree, and Markus Wheaton, his upside makes this decision easy for me. Lock it up. Get it? Lock it and Lockett? Ok, ok, don’t hold it against me and snag Lockett on the cheap.
-Jeff Donovan (@JeffDonovan_FF) – Melvin Gordon, SD
Did you get burned by Gordon in 2015? If so, let’s roll the dice again. Sure, he’s coming off microfracture surgery on his knee, and failed sadly behind Danny Woodhead as the preferred fantasy option in San Diego’s backfield, but this year should be different. Frank Reich has moved on to Philly, opening the door for Ken Whisenhunt to make a return trip as the offensive coordinator. In Whisenhunt’s first stint with San Diego in 2013, the Chargers ranked sixth in rush attempts, sticking to a much more balanced offense than this past year. Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead finished with nearly 2,500 yards of offense and 15 touchdowns on 492 combined touches, rounding out the year as RB12 (Mathews) and RB19 (Woodhead) in standard formats. Though a small sample size, initial signs are positive for Gordon, despite his horrendous rookie campaign.
In his inaugural season, Gordon miraculously missed out on finding the end zone on 184 rush attempts, the sixth most post-merger without scoring. Woof. It was a disappointing rookie season when you really dissect the negative details of San Diego’s offense. San Diego endured catastrophic injuries across the offensive line, rolling with 24 different line combinations. Only Joe Barksdale appeared in every game. Oofta. San Diego also held the ball while trailing the fourth-most per game at nearly one-third of regulation (18:16). Basically, it was the perfect shit storm for Gordon to underperform in relation to his 2015 fourth-round ADP. Though early in draft season, indications are that the majority is feeling soured by his RB52 finish. His late-sixth, early-seventh-round ADP shapes up perfectly for prospective ZeroRB strategists to pounce on a potential massive value.
-Sam Holt (@SamanthaRHolt) – Duke Johnson Jr., CLE
Johnson did not have the prettiest season last year. But that doesn’t discount the fact he was 5th in receiving yards and 4th in receptions amongst running backs. Not bad for a guy who averaged only 6.6 points per game. He had just 2 receiving touchdowns, but I see that changing this next season. By only sharing touches with Crowell and Barnidge, there’s no question that with his versatility he will be fed the ball often.
-Zack Marmer (@Leagueedge) – DeVante Parker, MIA
I have to confess I have a little bit of a man-crush on Parker, but I will attempt to justify that. Purely on raw talent, Parker is a top 20 receiver in this league and has been since the day he was drafted last year. At 6’3” 220 Lbs, he fits the profile of big, athletic receivers in the mold of A.J. Green and Julio Jones. Parker struggled with a foot injury for the first part of last season, but over Parker’s final 6 games, he flashed the potential of living up to his 1st round draft status. During 3 of those games, he plucked scores. In 4 of those, he went for over 80 yards and while also averaging 20 or more yards per reception in 5 of those 6 games.
What has me really excited is the Adam Gase offense that is being implemented this season. Experts criticize Parker for not running crisp routes, which is understandable for a player who missed time in his rookie campaign. Learning the NFL route tree is something that usually takes time for young receivers. Gase should make this process easier for Parker, as his offense utilizes a ton of short passes and WR screens (see Demaryius Thomas circa 2014). The Dolphins play a fair, few potentially high-powered offenses this year (Seattle, Pittsburgh, New England, San Diego, Arizona, Cincinnati) which could lead to shootouts and come-back attempts galore for this team. This means higher volume for Miami’s receivers. It could still be another year before Parker really “makes it” in this league, but there is always the chance he puts up stats like Allen Robinson did in his 2nd year despite injury-riddled rookie years from both players. The former Louisville standout is going in rounds 5-6 in drafts, which seems appropriate because of his question marks. Parker has around the same ADP Robinson had last year, so could their destinys turn out similar?
Who is a bounce back candidate that can redeem themselves after an off year?
-Kevin Steele (@FantasyWrath13) – Torrey Smith, SF
When Torrey Smith signed a massive contract with the 49ers in 2015, not many people felt particularly great about his landing spot, especially once you factored in Jim Tomsula as the coach to replace Jim Harbaugh. The offense was as pedestrian as they come and finished at the bottom of the league in terms of volume. They were a ground and pound offense that moved the ball at a snail’s pace. Smith had his worst season as a pro and had career lows in targets (62), receptions (33), yards (663), and tied his lowest touchdown total (4). So, what’s to love about Torrey Smith in 2016? For starters, gone are the 141 targets that Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis soaked up, which leaves Torrey Smith as the only proven target for Blaine Gabbert or Colin Kaepernick.
Next, is the arrival of Chip Kelly and his fast-paced offense. The 49ers should easily be towards the top of the league in plays ran in 2016 which makes the 49ers offense a juicy fantasy target. No, I don’t think the 49ers will have this juggernaut of an offense, but the pure increase in volume should allow Torrey Smith to see a hefty rise in targets from his 62 a year ago. It’s also not just Torrey Smith who I would be targeting. It’s also Bruce Ellington, Vance McDonald (who I have already mentioned), and Carlos Hyde. Torrey Smith has the most upside and you won’t have to invest much for him as his ADP currently sits at WR47, which is an absolute steal for a player who has the upside that Smith does. I will be targeting him in every draft next month and I would recommend you do the same.
-Jennifer Smith (@FF_female920) -Eddie Lacy, GB
Everyone has seen the pictures of the new slim Lacy and heard about his P90X workouts all off-season. It’s about more than weight. Lacy’s past performance, skill set, and opportunity made this an easy call for me, as a ballooning weight and nagging injuries hampered his performance in 2015. In 2016, Green Bay will get Jordy Nelson back from injury and the offense overall should bounce back along with Lacy. In both 2013 and 2014, Lacy ran for 1000+ yards and saw success in the receiving game as well (35 and 42 receptions for 257, 427 yards respectively). I predict similar success this season and rank him as my #10 RB heading into 2016.
-Jeff Donovan (@JeffDonovan_FF) – Randall Cobb, GB
No surprise here. We’ve discussed Cobb on multiple occasions on The Fantasy Authority podcast. When Jordy Nelson went down in training camp last season, the immediate thought from the majority was that Cobb would instantly be a top 10 player at his position. Cobb struggled to be the No. 1 guy in the offense and didn’t get close to living up to his 2015 ADP (18.7 – WR7) by finishing as WR30. We all know that the Packers offense is an entirely different beast with Jordy on the field. Would it be a shock if we saw a repeat of 2014 when Jordy and Cobb finished WR2/WR6? Those are lofty expectations, but either way, Cobb will be able to produce a return on his current WR20 ADP. I currently have Cobb at No. 13 in my wide receiver rankings.
-Sam Holt (@SamanthaRHolt) – Carlos Hyde, SF
Chip Kelly offense, Chip Kelly offense, Chip Kelly offense. I agree the “Chip Kelly Offense” has become an increasingly overused term in fantasy. However, I have to note that his system is a lot like the one Hyde excelled with at Ohio State. That will play into his favor. Coach Kelly has said he has “no idea” who will get the starting job at QB. With that in mind, the running game will likely be a big factor early on in 2016. “Redemption comes to those who wait”, and Carlos I think you’ve waited long enough.
-Zack Marmer (@Leagueedge) – Demarco Murray, TEN
Honorable mention to Jordy Nelson here, but I wanted to pick a player that underperformed rather than didn’t play at all. I’m a firm believer that Murray’s success is tied to his situation, and you need not look further for evidence than the dichotomy that is his statistics from the past 2 seasons. In 2014, he led the NFL in rushing, and in 2015, Chip Kelly ran him East and West to a career-low yards per carry (3.6). I project that his situation in Tennessee is somewhere in-between 2014 and 2015, where he should be a lot more comfortable in a more traditional offense. He won’t have the world-beating offensive line he had in Dallas, but he will at least be asked to run through his line instead of around it.
One concern from fantasy owners is the presence of Derrick Henry. Henry shouldn’t be considered a true threat to Murray’s workload in his rookie year, and Murray has always been underrated as a receiver. The newly minted Tennessee Titan has at least 44 receptions in each of the past 3 years. Murray is a lock for at least 1,350 total yards and 7 scores, putting him safely in the RB2 tier. The RB1 upside is definitely still there for the 28-year-old, so if he slips past round 5 in your draft, you may have to pounce on him, especially in 12 team PPR leagues. I like his upside more than most of the mid-round running backs considering his proven production and high career efficiency (4.6 career yards per carry, despite last season’s disaster). If last year’s Heisman Trophy winner wasn’t on the team, I think he would be considered a 3rd round selection, and I just don’t think Henry is enough of a reason to drop him 2 or more rounds as a rookie change-of-smashmouth back.
Who is a highly touted fantasy option that you think is primed to bust?
-Kevin Steele (@FantasyWrath13) – DeAndre Hopkins, HOU
Now, before you start throwing objects at me, let me explain. I’m not saying he’s going to fall off the map, I just think he’s in for some regression. There are two things that should be taken into consideration when you contemplate drafting him next month. The first being that he is likely going to see a regression in targets. Last season, the Texans averaged 38.6 pass attempts per game, which is significantly higher than the 30.3 they averaged the year before. So what caused this influx? First off, the defense started off poorly and the offense had to throw far more to stay in ball games. The second being that once Arian Foster went down, they were left with plodding Alfred Blue as their lead back. This forced Houston to throw the ball at a significantly higher rate which allowed for DeAndre Hopkins to receive the third-most targets at 187 according to ProFootballFocus.
When I start researching players, one area I always pay attention to is their games logs and what kind of game script occurred. When looking at DeAndre Hopkins, you see a tale of two halves. Over his first 8 games, he averaged 8.25 receptions, 108 yards, and .75 TD per game. However, over his final 8 games, he averaged 5.6 receptions, 81.3 yards, and .625 TDs per game. So why the drop in production? The defense. During the first 8 games, the defense allowed an ugly 25.8 ppg which led to a 3-5 record. Then came the bye week and the defense finally figured things out and only allowed 13.5 ppg. Once you factor in the negative game scripts and a rushing attack that finished 15th in the league, it begins to paint a clear picture as to why Hopkins broke out in 2015.
Heading into 2016, the Texans went out and overhauled the offense adding Brock Osweiler, Lamar Miller, and drafting Will Fuller and Braxton Miller. With a much-improved run game and more weapons for Osweiler to play with, I would expect Hopkins to experience a regression in 2016. I will stress, I’m not saying Hopkins is going to be a massive bust, but compared to where he’s being taken in standard (WR4; 10th overall) or PPR formats (WR4; 6th overall), I would much rather have a player like AJ Green who should see a significant boost in targets. Considering all the factors mentioned above I will likely pass on Nuk this season unless he falls into the second round, which I doubt happens.
-Jennifer Smith (@FF_female920) – Devonta Freeman, ATL
I know, I’m sure I’m getting boos for this pick, but I just don’t feel as comfortable with Freeman this year as others, especially with his pricey ADP (early 2nd round). Most are currently drafting Freeman as their RB1, but he lost steam at the end of the season in 2015 (3.0 YPC over last 5 games) and I think fantasy owner’s expectations are inflated due to his monstrous performances over the course of weeks 3-7 last season. After that, his productivity dropped off, perhaps because of wear-and-tear. This season, I see an increased role for Tevin Coleman at least in the receiving game and perhaps more than that. Do I think Freeman is a solid pick? Sure. I just think taking him as early as he is going may lead to disappointment from owners down the stretch. If you take him as your RB1, make sure to snag Coleman or have realistic expectations for his 2016 fantasy season.
-Jeff Donovan (@JeffDonovan_FF) – Kelvin Benjamin, CAR
I can hear it already. “What is this? The Panthers were an offensive juggernaut last year without Benjamin and he put up a great rookie year, so this makes no sense.” Sure, Benjamin performed solidly in 2014, posting the 11th best statistical year for a rookie WR post-merger within standard scoring formats. When looking at his 2014 season, a number of red flags jump out.
Benjamin\'s 2014 stats according to PFF and rank among 37 wide receivers with 100-plus targets
|wdt_ID||Targ||Rec||Yds||TD||Drop||Catch %||aDOT||YPR||YPT||RAC||Strd Pts||PPR Pts|
One thing that becomes clear is that Benjamin’s 2014 was highly touchdown and volume driven. He recorded the fifth-most targets in the league, but only corralled the 23rd most receptions among receivers with 100-plus targets. Imagine what he could have done if he hadn’t tied for last in catch percentage within that group? Benjamin dropped a ball one in every 12.9 targets, showing that his 9.68% drop rate in his final year at FSU wasn’t an aberration. Obviously, drop percentage isn’t fully indicative of a player’s NFL potential, but it surely isn’t something that tends to transition well to the NFL. The receiving group has also gotten much deeper in Carolina. In 2014, Benjamin received a 26.6% team target share, but that was with Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, and Corey Brown as the competition for looks. Since then, the Panthers have breakout candidate Devin Funchess and Ted Ginn Jr., as well as some upside behemoths in Stephen Hill and Keyarris Garrett (eye-raising words on Hill here). Regardless of what you think of the pieces added, it’s extremely unlikely Benjamin receives anywhere close to 142 targets in 2015 with the potential of a “committee” approach at wide receiver. With a current price of late-3rd round pick (36.0), there’s superior options at that stage of the draft that I’m looking to take.
Other notes regarding his 2014 season:
- Four of nine touchdowns came when CAR was trailing by 24-plus points
- Only 16/34/210/1 when CAR leading
- 2014 CAR – 9 of 16 games negative game script – 25th in average time led @ 19:46
- 2015 CAR – only 3 of 16 games negative game script – 1st in average time led @ 39:47
- Converted only three touchdowns on 18 red zone targets (16.6%)
- Pace stats are always frowned upon, but Benjamin’s 16-game pace stats on 120 targets would be: 60/828/7 – good for WR29
-Sam Holt (@SamanthaRHolt) – Doug Baldwin, SEA
Last year Baldwin saw a career high in receiving yards and touchdowns. Taking a shot in the dark, but I really don’t think that he will surpass it. His breakout performance was due to the offense needing to open up after injuries to Lynch and Graham had them scrambling. Baldwin received the lion’s share of touchdowns and Pete Carroll will spread those targets out in 2016 to the multi-talented options in Rawls, Kearse, Lockett and even new rookie C.J. Prosise.
-Zack Marmer (@Leagueedge) – Michael Floyd, ARI
I just don’t understand Floyd’s current ADP. Both our TFA ADP and Fantasy Pros ADP rank the Cardinals receiver as the WR #26 (WR3) and coming off the board somewhere between 45 and 60 overall as of this writing. That is somewhere in rounds 4-6 depending on how many teams are in your league. As someone who is usually picking at least his second, if not third or fourth receiver by this point, I am looking for a player with more upside than Floyd. His floor has been stable at around 54 catches for 800-1000 yards and 5-6 touchdowns for the past 3 seasons. However, I am not convinced that Floyd can take that next step production-wise, as he has done nothing to show he has that potential.
Arizona has one of the deepest receiving corps in the entire league, and Carson Palmer showed no problem spreading the ball around last year. When you have Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, J.J. Nelson, Jaron Brown, David and Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington as offensive weapons, Michael Floyd just seems like a part of that crowd, not someone who will break out and put the team on his shoulders. He simply won’t be asked to shoulder that large of a workload, and for that reason, I can’t justify spending that high of a pick on him. Here are some players that are going around, or after where he is in going drafts: Thomas Rawls, Doug Baldwin, C.J. Anderson, Larry Fitzgerald, Jordan Matthews, Emmanuel Sanders, and Demarco Murray. Personally, I’d take any of them over Floyd if I am drafting the best player available. The only way I’d take Floyd is if I went very RB heavy early in my draft, and Floyd was still available post round-7.
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