Fall is on the horizon. We have suffered through a summer of intense heat, however, soon the winds will shift. Which will bring much of the country needed relief. This offseason, we witnessed a shift for plenty of NFL offenses. For this piece, I will focus on WRs in Shifting Offenses.
2017 is shaping up to be a year of change. I for one am starting a brand new graphic design job with an amazing company. Even sweeter, I get to join their fantasy league. It’s a match made in heaven really.
Many of our beloved NFL teams are seeing drastic shifts as well. The Raiders are spending their final years in Oakland, bringing in Marshawn Lynch for a last hurrah, AP is with Breezy in New Orleans, LeGarrette Blount is in Philly, and the Jets cut everyone. These are just a few of the many shifting situations across the NFL, and we’ll probably see a few more as teams continue to settle. What fantasy owners are asking themselves — besides how many days until football is back— is where to find both the values and the pitfalls amongst all these moves. We know not all moves for a team are beneficial in fantasy, though we do like to hope. In an effort to see the fantasy glass half-full, I’ll start with one of the more promising changes around the league.
Glimmer of Hope
The Houston Texans jettisoned Brock Osweiler so fast, the poor guy probably got whiplash. Without wasting any time, Houston traded up to pick Deshaun Watson out of Clemson at 12th overall. Here’s hoping some of that Dak-Prescott rookie magic trickles down the state and lands in Houston. With Houston trading up so many spots to secure him, the belief is Watson will easily beat out Tom Savage for the starting job. Watson is a talented QB with an innate ability to find the end zone. Watson threw for 41 touchdowns at Clemson last year — and ran in nine to boot. Though he was picked off 17 times last season, QB friendly coach Bill O’Brien should be able to work out the turnover kinks.
Luckily for Watson, he also has a gem of a receiver in DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins owners were starved for points last season and dynasty owners are praying to the fantasy gods that Watson can bring some salvation. That’s probably a bit dramatic for preseason, but it’s fantasy, why not get excited? You might say that Hopkins’ numbers were also compromised by Fuller eating into his targets, which I would partially agree with. However, both Fuller and Hopkins only managed to reel in about half of those targets (47 catches on 96 targets for Fuller, 78 on 150 for Hopkins). I see this as lack of catchable targets more than anything, and they combined for a mere six touchdowns total last year — Hopkins had 11 on his own in 2015! If Watson can bring back some consistency in the throwing game, the entire team will benefit.
Writer’s Update: Will Fuller is now out with a broken collar bone. A best possible case scenario is he returns sometime in November. If you happen to have an IR slot in your league, he could be a very interesting buy low stash. Or even waiver pick up to stash on the IR slot. I believe this only helps Hopkins target volume going into the season.
Feast or Famine
When I think of fantasy hits and misses, I think of the New York Giants. Outside of Odell Beckham Jr, there has been little else to count on. To add insult to injury, the Giants added Brandon Marshall, who is coming off his worst season since he started in the league. Marshall is now 33, which for football purposes means he’s basically using a walker to get down the field. Fantasy statistics dictate that after the age of 30 a WR’s production drops off like an anvil on Wile E. Coyote. This correlation is probably why I’m so upset I’ll be turning 30 this year. Considering I live and breathe fantasy football, the number makes me think I’m going to tear my ACL in a matter of months. But I digress.
Marshall’s addition to the roster will have little effect on Odell Beckham’s numbers this season. I say this not just because Marshall is aging and underperforming his ADP every year. It’s because Beckham has the ability to make Eli Manning’s piss-poor passes catchable. Also, note that Beckham basically tied league-leading Mike Evans in targets last season (Evans had 173, Beckham had 169). Marshall is a WR3 at best, with the potential to vulture a touchdown or two. He will also help open up the passing lanes for Beckham as he draws coverage from the cornerbacks he enjoys taunting. Meanwhile, Sterling Shepard should slot into the WR3 spot. Though Shepard was on the field for 97.7% of the pass plays last season, his production was entirely touchdown dependent. As he will be sharing those opportunities with Marshall now, this decreases his upside, though he may remain WR3-relevant in PPR formats.
The big miss for me on the Giants is Eli Manning. For fantasy purposes he’s abysmal. He’s currently coming off his worst season since 2004, as he was ranked 21st in the league. His receivers managed to generate 5.3 yards after the catch (ninth most). Meanwhile, Manning’s yards per attempt slumped down to 6.7 (ninth lowest). He also had 2 weeks of top 10 fantasy numbers. When I draft receivers one of the first things I look at is who is throwing the ball. To his credit, Manning has started 199 consecutive games, however, he is 36. Circle back to what I think of players in their 30’s.
Writer’s Update: Sterling Shepard suffered an ankle injury in practice Wednesday. First news out of New York is Shepard is under going an MRI Thursday and we’ll get a better understanding of the potential damage then. Latest on receivers from camp is that Darius Powe is seeing increased reps. He has a long road to go in order to climb the depth chart, but the extra reps can only help his case. Tavarres King also rolled his ankle in practice on Thursday. Let’s hope the injury bug hasn’t staked an early claim in New York.
Late Round Value
The Tennessee Titans have first and foremost been a run-heavy offense. Mariota has shown some inconsistencies with pass conversions but landed in the top 15 in passing touchdowns by the end of last season. One addition that should help in the consistency column for the Titans is the addition of Eric Decker.
“Wasn’t Decker injured most of last season?”
Yes, very injured. Decker is coming off not just a rotator cuff surgery, but a hip surgery to repair a labral tear as well. However, based on volume and opportunity, I think there’s value in drafting Decker. If he stays at full health, his consistency in the red zone will reward fantasy owners. In 2015, Decker averaged one touchdown per game played, all season long. Decker will fall later in the draft due to last season’s injuries and being the new guy in a crowded system, but I think he has the potential to end up a dependable WR2 in no time. Competing with Decker on the depth chart is Rishard Matthews, whose value didn’t appear until midseason last year. He went from 4.9 targets a game in the beginning of the season, to eight targets a game from Week 8 on. By the end of the season, Matthews was the No. 22 WR in standard scoring. This obvious rapport he’s built with Mariota should continue to grow.
Finally, Tennessee’s first pick in the draft was Corey Davis, supporting the Titans’ desire to open up their options on offense. At 6’3” and 209 lbs., Davis showed his dominance last season at Western Michigan with 19 touchdowns and a 71% catch rate. Though he’s not a proven blocker, his agility when it comes to making plays after the catch makes him a dynamic prospect. It also doesn’t hurt that his 40-yd dash is a 4.45. Interestingly enough, his player comparison on NFL player profile — none other than Eric Decker. I hope they become besties.
Value in Volume
Drew Brees has more than stood the test of time, providing incredibly consistency fantasy value to his receivers for years. When you start a Saints receiver, you know you’re guaranteed a healthy amount of targets. No matter how many receivers he has out there as options, he feeds them all. He’s like the Oprah of football, you get targets, you get targets, everyone gets targets!!! Brees had 471 completions for his 673 attempts last year, his career highest making for a 70% completion rating. That’s crazy. Whatever Drew Brees does for conditioning and recovery should be bottled and given to everyone on the team like Michael’s ‘Secret Stuff’ that Bugs passed out in Space Jam. I think my references are more a testament to my ADD than to attempts at being clever. Anyways, regarding Brees’ prized receivers, The Saints bid farewell to Brandin Cooks, leaving Michael Thomas as the clear WR1. This is clear because Thomas had 92 receptions on his 122 targets while Cooks had 78 of his 117 targets last season. Thomas was nipping at the heels of most or just exceeded all off Cooks’ stats by the end of 2016. The frustration I see here is who will come out as the decided WR2. Snead will be competing with newly added Tedd Ginn Jr for that slot. You all remember Ginn, the fantasy vulture of points that frustrated us to no end last year? In 2016, Ginn had his highest receptions (54) since his sophomore season with Miami in 2008 (56). I’ll give the slight edge to Snead though, not just because he’s much younger, but he can throw too. How many of you won your week 6, when he threw that 50 yard TD pass to Hightower against the Rams. Just ridiculous.
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