Monday, August 28, 2017

NFL Fantasy Picks: Who's In My Wallet

Tradition! Along with losing.
I've drafted twice this week and don't love my team after either experience, but that doesn't negate the homework or thought process. Here's the handful of guys that I'm ranking ahead of their average draft position at each major position because that's where these things are won and (in my case, usually) lost.

Quarterbacks

> Marcus Mariota, Tennessee. He's got actual WRs from the start of the season this time, a kitten-soft division, and is just coming into his own. Assuming health, he'll still have wheels, and maybe a little bit less of a fetish running game from his slow to turn coach. Put it all together, and there are very real chances of a top 6 finish here.

> Russell Wilson, Seattle. I love QBs who give me a floor with a running game, and Wilson's health brings back the element that was missing in the first half of 2016. The Seahawk line is still worrisome, and his division gets after the QB, but the WRs are secretly good, and the defense isn't as fearsome as before. He'll do more this year, has more to do it with, and is in his prime.

> Jay Cutler, Miami. Yes, I know, Smoking Jay is a punchline of failed potential, but all of that means that you can get him for next to nothing, and he's got a bunch of games this year where the matchup is downright tasty. The line has a bunch of tackle level talents, the high volume RB isn't as good as people think, and the WRs are nearly world class. Finally, the HC trusts him and runs a system he's had success with in the past, and the talent has always been there. Many people will do worse.

> Matthew Stafford, Detroit. No one's idea of sexy, but the floor is 4K yards, 25 TDs, a division where no defense scares you, and a ton of indoor pinball games. Stafford is kind of the living definition of why you can, and should, wait at QB this year.

> Andy Dalton, Cincinnati. I don't love WR Jon Ross for what he'll do on the field by himself, but the influence that he's going to have on AJ Green is nice, and while the Bengal line has never been great, Dalton's managed with worse. Remember, you aren't drafting his terrible playoff performance and inevitable loss, and I think he stays healthy this year, mostly because the NFL rules have been all about keeping QBs healthy. Especially the slow veteran white ones.

Running Backs

> Ty Montgomery, Green Bay. There's concern that he won't hold up under the pounding, but it's not as if he's old, small, or has a track record of getting beaten down. Green Bay RB1 is a role that won't ever give you a ton of short yardage touchdowns -- QB Aaron Rodgers likes to keep it in his own hands down there, for good reasons -- but for consistent 100-yard days, you can do worse.

> Ameer Abdullah, Detroit. Yes, I know, he's never stayed healthy, but he's still young, and he's also the only thing that's close to a 3-down back on the roster. He's also actually good, and NFL history is filled with guys who were seen as injury-prone until they just shake it. (See Gore, Frank.)

> Paul Perkins, New York. I'm not in love with his line, and there are a ton of targets to feed in the passing game... but if you play the Giants this year, you are never putting eight in the box to stop the run, and QB Eli Manning is more than happy to check it down. Perkins will do fine here.

> Derrick Henry, Tennessee. He's already a better back than RB1 DeMarco Murray, and nothing in the starter's bounce-back 2016 keeps us from noting he's a 29-year-old RB who has been ridden hard. I'm in love with Henry's talent; if and when he gets a shot at this job, he's not giving it back.

> Kenneth Dixon, Baltimore. You have to put up with a suspension in September, and starter Terrance West isn't a bad football player, but Dixon is a lot better and more versatile. Stash him late and enjoy RB1 production down the stretch, because the Ravens are going to want to run it, and Dixon's not coming to come off the field the way West will.

Wide Receivers

> Pierre Garcon, San Francisco. He's 29, the closest thing the offense has to a capable WR, and will play for a sneaky bad team that will (a) throw a lot because they'll be behind, but (b) not have jailbreak pass protection, because the line isn't awful and (c) neither is QB Brian Hoyer. Add in his familiarity with a Kyle Shanahan offense, and you've got a 1200 yard / 10 TD candidate. The fact that little of it will be meaningful isn't your problem.

> Corey Coleman, Cleveland. Consider this one a lack of confidence pick in WR Kenny Britt, who is cashing a check and might lose motivation having done so. Coleman was showing sparks last year before the injury, won't get CB1 attention, and might benefit from heavy targets levels in an offense that will throw it a lot. Cleveland has lots of signs of not being awful this year, by the way.

> Willie Snead, New Orleans. He's going to be the #2 in a Drew Brees offense, and their WR depth just isn't as good as it used to be. I like Snead to slide all over the place and become the move the chains guy, because TE Cody Fleener just isn't that good, and the RBs just aren't at Darren Sproles levels of target hoggery.

> DeAndre Hopkins, Houston. Yes, last year stunk and it seemed like the bloom was off the rose for a guy that was immune to bad QB play in the past, but this sorely overstates just how bad Brock Osweiler was. I think he bounces back all the way to top 6 WR status this year, if for no other reason than his division is a dumpster fire, and the Texan QB production *has* to be better this year.

> Marvin Jones, Detroit. He faded in 2016 after a strong start, but I think that had more to do with injuries than the league catching up to him. Anquan Boldin's absence also helps, along with the fact that Kenny Goladay isn't ready yet, and Golden Tate is getting a little long in the tooth.

Tight Ends

> Travis Kelce, Kansas City. With the Chiefs running game in flux, red zone work to the TE will get even more pronounced this year, and there's even an outside chance that he winds up as TE1 this year. If only because Rob Gronkowski is going to spend lots of fourth quarters watching the ends of blowouts in a ball cap.

> Evan Engram, New York Giants. Eli is, actually, a bad QB in good QB's pedigree, and bad QBs work the tight end like a speed bag, because the throw is shorter and safer. Engram is the first competent target at TE that Manning has had in years, and he's also bad at blocking. Which is kind of what you want, honestly.

> Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers. Antonio Gates will get force fed a record in September, but then the Chargers will go with the guy who actually still runs like a football player, rather than a Canton bust. It also helps that the Charger WR corps has such a terrible injury history, which means Henry will get more and more targets over the course of the season.

> Dwayne Allen, New England. He won't provide every-week value, but he'll have plenty of good matchups to take advantage of, and if Gronk misses time (he usually does), he'll go to first-class TE1 status overnight. Allen's a very good football player, QB Tom Brady is 40 and likes to hide his relative lack of arm strength with short and middle throws, and the Patriots are going to score 40 points a game this year. You want to have cheap options in this offense.

> Zach Ertz, Philadelphia. Historically, Ertz has done his best work late in the year with the Eagles out of the playoff picture, and has also come up short in the red zone. He's also had to work with circus animals at WR, which means he's gotten more attention than a TE should. Expect fewer targets this year but more effectiveness, and a little more luck in the red zone than previous. Not a true breakout year, but stasis in a better offense.

* * * * *

Here's the roster for the auction league. Asterisks were keepers.

  Player TM 2017 2018
QB Matthew Stafford * DET 13 16
RB1 LeGarrette Blount * PHL 23 27
RB2 Isaiah Crowell * CLE 15 19
WR1 T.Y. Hilton * IND 45 50
WR2 Willie Snead * NO 8 11
WR3 Stefon Diggs * MIN 21 25
FX Ameer Abdullah DET 38 43
TE Evan Engram NYG 6 9
DEF Carolina CAR 1 4
PK Matt Prater DET 3 6
B1 Ezekiel Elliott DAL 65 70
B2 Pierre Garcon SF 16 20
B3 Robby Anderson NYJ 4 7
B4 Marvin Jones DET 6 9
B5 Kenneth Dixon BAL 28 33
B6 Carson Wentz PHL 1 4
  TOTAL   293 353

This team might be OK, but it's hard to feel very good about it, for two reasons. First, I got caught price protecting Elliott. At $65, it's still a defensible price, especially if the suspension is reduced in any amount because a $70 protection for what might be the best RB in the league is acceptable. Second, I got gun-shy on pricing after that and wound up letting Travis Kelce go for $31 when I had last action on him. Having an extra $30 at the end of the draft allowed me to swoop on Dixon and price out the team that nominated him, but I'd rather have had Kelce with those dollars.

My biggest hope for both real and fantasy football this year is that Wentz becomes a star, and I have QB locked up for the next decade for cheap. There are lesser possibilities. I'm also pleased with the back up WRs, who might get enough targets to be of significant value, and provide protection for Blount continuing to fail to impress in Eagles training camp.

Here are the results from the snake speed draft. As you can see, I'm double invested in Abdullah, Garcon and Engram.

1. (11) A.J. Green (Cin - WR)
2. (14) Jordan Howard (Chi - RB)
3. (35) DeAndre Hopkins (Hou - WR)
4. (38) Ty Montgomery (GB - RB)
5. (59) Ameer Abdullah (Det - RB)
6. (62) Martellus Bennett (GB - TE)
7. (83) Ben Roethlisberger (Pit - QB)
8. (86) Jameis Winston (TB - QB)
9. (107) Pierre Garcon (SF - WR)
10. (110) Derrick Henry (Ten - RB)
11. (131) Samaje Perine (Was - RB)
12. (134) Evan Engram (NYG - TE)
13. (155) Carolina (Car - DEF)
14. (158) Brandon McManus (Den - K)

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