NFL Offenses: Ranking and Analysis (24-17)
NFL offenses drive our fantasy teams. We constantly scour over the data trying to find sleepers and breakout players to help us win this year and beyond. Now, more than ever, it behooves us to understand the general trends that drive the league and use those trends to try and anticipate the best sources of fantasy scoring. This is our second installment of this series, touching on the 24th through 17th ranked squads. In the team breakdowns, I will give you some information on the team overall, and if I feel they will have much fantasy success this year.
We have seen that NFL offenses are changing. Over the past two years, NFL top wide receivers have seen a dip in their receptions because teams are starting to spread it out more. Concurrently, while WR1’s have seen a dip in overall target shares, WR3’s, tight ends, and pass-catching running backs are seeing increases. With spreading it out more resulting in astronomical passing numbers over the past few years, defenses have started to shift to counteract that- playing more defensive backs and lessening the men in the box. And as a response to that, we’ve also seen more teams commit to running the ball, at a time when the running back had been seriously devalued (to the point of absolute studs being drafted late in the second round in the NFL Draft).
Plan- For this four-part series, I am going to break down every NFL offense and rank them from worst to first, giving you an idea of what offenses will succeed this year and which are set up for success for the coming years. I will also try and touch on some possible free agents who could affect the team if they are let go in the coming years.
Methodology- My rankings are the result of a combination of three different rankings: Offensive Line rankings (h/t to Pro Football Focus), Quarterback rankings (h/t to our rankings), and Offensive Weapon rankings (personal analysis of top three wideouts, tight end, and running backs).
While ranking the offenses I will give some quick hits on who I think will be relevant in certain roles and whether or not they have breakouts or sleepers. As always, if you have any fantasy questions or want to discuss my rankings hit me up on twitter @SportsfanaticMB !
24. Jacksonville Jaguars
Offensive line ranking per PFF- 15
Quarterback rank- 29
Offensive weapons rank- 17
Jacksonville comes into the 2018 season after what will be considered by most to be their best season in franchise history. They will be looking to build on that success and possibly go one step further than last year. Jacksonville will likely be led by a nasty defense again this year and will look to rely on their young offensive weapons to score just enough to put them over the top. Can the Jaguars depend on Blake Bortles again this year? Can they get to the Super Bowl this year?
Jacksonville will continue to play offense that is much different than most of the NFL. Last year, if they could avoid throwing the ball, they did. They were one of the most run-heavy teams in the NFL ( nearly 50% this past season, including 48% even when they were behind three-to-seven points). While many believe that they took this approach to “hide” Blake Bortles, he came up big in the playoffs and was one great Stephon Gilmore play away from the Super Bowl. If Bortles can continue to take strides forward this could quickly become a very explosive offense.
Quarterbacks: Blake Bortles, Cody Kessler, Tanner Lee
Bortles is the entrenched starter at the moment and is an intriguing player this year. Bortles has finished in the top 13 at the quarterback position in the last three seasons. I think he has a legitimate shot to continue that trend this year. He still has a ton of weapons around him, including a top-10 running back and four intriguing young wide receivers. Bortles’ long-term projection is harder to predict, as he could be gone after this year. If he continues to improve and shows out again, however, I could see him back in Jacksonville.
Kessler will be his backup and is worth owning if you have Bortles. While Bortles hasn’t really struggled with injuries, if he does suffer one that keeps him down Kessler can fill in effectively until he returns.
Running backs: Leonard Fournette, T.J. Yeldon, Corey Grant, Tommy Bohanon
Fournette is in our top-ten at running back and it’s well deserved. In 16 games last year he finished below 10 fantasy points only twice, and he will likely continue to be a top running back for years to come. The only question about Fournette is how he deals with his ankle injuries. With Ivory gone, Fournette should see an increase in carries and will likely get a few more catches as well.
Yeldon will likely see an increased role this year as well without Ivory. More importantly, Yeldon is Fournette’s back up and if he goes down at all this season, Yeldon could legitimately produce as a top-15 back. While he won’t see many carries (likely just spelling Fournette), he should get some work in the passing game to keep him somewhat fantasy relevant.
Wide receivers: Marqise Lee, Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, D.J. Chark, Donte Moncrief
Lee looks poised to lead this receiving corps after being locked up by the team with the departure of Allen Robinson. Lee has talent and when healthy is a good wide receiver. My fear for him is that i think he is miscast as a WR1; his skill set is that of a top-tier WR2. He can move the chains and offers big play ability, so while he may be the Jags’ WR1 he is more likely a WR2 or high-end WR3 for fantasy.
Cole really came on strong in the back half of last season; his weeks 14-16 were amazing and likely helped you win your league last year. Cole played in the slot some last year but both the WR2 spot and the slot will be a fierce competition. If Cole can win one of the spots he will likely prove his relevance again, but we need to remember he was a UDFA and only had three great games.
Westbrook will be fighting for catches and looks but is the likely leader to take the slot role for now. He was a stud at Oklahoma, and last year in seven games pushed past 50 receiving yards three times. I think he has the best chance to be the second-best receiver in this group but will need the starts to prove it. He may not do much this year but long-term is a guy to own in this offense.
Chark has explosive upside and was limited while at LSU due to bad quarterback play. While Bortles may not be much better, Chark has a chance to succeed here. His vertical skills are second-to-none and can high point the ball with the best in the league. However, with this loaded corps, Chark will likely be relegated to a special teams player until he can make his mark (or it’s thinned out by injury). I don’t see much upside in 2019 but going forward he is at the top of the list for me, along with Westbrook.
Moncrief for me has little-to-no upside in this offense, despite his size and speed. He couldn’t do it with a healthy Andrew Luck (he had one good year, and finished 39th at the position in 2015). I don’t think he’ll put it together and think he’ll be relegated to a bench role at some point this season.
Tight end: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Niles Paul, James O’Shaughnessy
Jenkins is the obvious guy to own here as he had a resurgent season last year with the New York Jets. While he only had three touchdowns last year he also had three more touchdowns wrongfully, and he still has good receiving skills. Bortles did target his tight end 26% of the time last year, up from 17% from the year before. I don’t think Jenkins gets much work in between the 20s, but could dominate in the red-zone.
Dede Westbrook and D.J. Chark look to be the future of this passing game. While both might do something in 2018, their breakouts are likely a little further down the road.
Impact 2019 Free Agents:
Wide Receiver- Donte Moncrief. He’s not necessarily a key free agent but once he leaves after this season it will open up targets for their younger wide receivers.
Running Back- T.J. Yeldon. Yeldon is a big one- if they let him walk in the off-season he could move to another team and be given a shot at a starting job again, which would also open up the backup and receiving role for the Jags.
O-Line- Josh Wells (RT) Josh Walker (G) William Poehls (G). While not a top-tier offensive line they are in the top half of the league. Keeping some of these guys would be key to keeping them there.
Corey Grant, Rashad Greene, James O’Shaughnessy are all free agents as well but I don’t think losing any of these guys would affect the offense.
23. Los Angeles Chargers
Offensive line ranking per PFF- 23
Quarterback rank- 22
Offensive weapons rank- 15
The Chargers had a turbulent 2017. They lost their first four games last year by three points or less, and mostly because their kicker missed kicks. They finished their year on a run of winning six out of seven games, and ending in a four-way tie at 9-7 but missing the playoffs due to a poor conference record. With a dominant defense returning in 2018 and an aging Hall of Fame quarterback will they be able to get over the hump and make the playoffs? Will the Chargers make a Super Bowl this year?
The Chargers’ off-season started off with a major buzz kill of losing Hunter Henry for the season with an ACL tear. They did bring in All-pro center Mike Pouncey to shore up some line issues, and will likely bring Antonio Gates back for one more season. The AFC is wide open this year and the Chargers look primed to take advantage of their weapons and try to make a legitimate Super Bowl run this year.
Quarterbacks: Philip Rivers, Geno Smith, Cardale Jones
Rivers is the leader of this offense and looks primed for yet another top ten finish at the position this year. While Rivers only has two years left on his contract, he could easily play until he’s 40. As of right now, Rivers is the guy and it doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere any time soon.
Cardale is an interesting prospect for me. While he’ll likely just be the backup quarterback he may be worth a stash in deeper dynasty leagues or on a taxi squad. He has a big arm and has shown flashes, and he could be the future after Rivers leaves (but that still could be many years away).
Running backs: Melvin Gordon, Justin Jackson, Austin Ekeler
Gordon is the clear bell cow in this backfield and one of the few in the NFL who handles a majority of the snaps (70% over the past two seasons). While many people feel Gordon isn’t particularly good, he’s able to continue to put up numbers on pure volume alone. While he has struggled with some injuries, he’s a solid top option at the position until the Chargers show they are moving away from him.
Ekeler began cutting into Gordon’s workload last year until he injured his wrist in week 15. He could continue to cut into Gordon’s passing work, especially he if shows off more of the explosiveness he showed last year. He will likely have some big fantasy games but as of now likely won’t be anything consistent unless Gordon is injured.
Justin Jackson had a great college career at Northwestern. While he showed he could run between the tackles he profiles as more of a satellite back in the NFL. I think Jackson is more talented and more explosive than Ekeler and will beat him out for that receiving back role. However, right now he will likely be the third back on the chart and relegated to a special teams role. He is worth a stash for me.
Wide receivers: Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Mike Williams, Travis Benjamin, Dylan Cantrell
Allen is the most dynamic guy out of this group, and when healthy can be a top 7-8 wide receiver in the league. Allen will likely see an increase in looks this season with Henry out, as he has mostly dominated out of the slot. Between losing Henry and him being mostly in the middle of the field, plus his connection with River, we could see a huge season from Allen. While it feels like we’ve been talking about Allen forever he is only 26 and as long as Rivers is around will be a top wide receiver option.
Tyrell Williams will be battling for a spot on the outside with Mike Williams and Travis Benjamin. Tyrell signed a one-year contract this off-season, so while his immediate future is good his long-term has questions. T. Williams has filled in admirably whenever Allen’s been out, and I think he will beat out the other two to secure one of the outside receiver spots. T. Williams has talent and could be a decent fantasy option but after this year a new team could improve or diminish his value.
Mike Williams was the number seven overall pick last year. While he missed a good chunk of the season due to a back injury, he comes into 2018 fully healthy. If draft capital means anything he’ll likely get the shot to win one of the outside jobs. He was a good receiver at Clemson with DeShaun Watson and could prove his skills with an even better gunslinger in Rivers. While Williams is likely the future two for this offense I don’t see him producing much this year, he will likely have a full breakout in 2019.
Travis Benjamin a.k.a The Rabbit will likely continue in the role he has dominated since he’s been in the league. Being a downfield threat and burner. He is the easiest to predict out of this group, and he will start on the outside and produce in that deep threat role. It will be hard to predict in which games he’ll go off, but in deep leagues, he will be a worth flex starter most weeks.
Dylan Cantrell is an interesting name to watch, mostly a possession receiver in college he showed off some fairly explosive traits at the combine. With as deep as this group is he likely won’t see much playing time for a year or two but worth watching and stashing.
Tight ends: Hunter Henry, Virgil Green, Austin Roberts, Braedon Bowman
Virgil Green is the only one here with any modicum of fantasy value. The perpetual “Fantasy Sleeper” through most of his career, he’s never had more than 22 catches or ever broken 250 receiving yards. Finally, it seems that the stars are aligning and it could be an interesting year for him. Unless Antonio Gates is signed.
Henry will be the lead guy for the future and while many have projected him as a top tight end for the future I’m not as high on him. However, he is worth holding onto due to the lack of studs at the position and his quarterback for the near future.
Hunter Henry (TE), Mike Williams (WR), Dylan Cantrell (WR), Justin Jackson (RB) all have been touched on above and look to be the future of the Los Angeles Chargers offense as early as 2019.
2019 Impact Free Agents:
Wide Reciever- Tyrell Williams. Being let go could allow him to move to a team with a more defined role and open up playing time for the younger players.
O-Line- Cole Toner (G), Spencer Pulley (C). Neither project to be starters but more as depth guys.
22. Dallas Cowboys
Offensive line rating per PFF- 3
Quarterback rank- 21
Offensive weapons rank- 32
In the past two years, we have seen two completely different iterations of Dak Prescott. In his rookie season, he took very good care of the ball (only four interceptions) en route to a Rookie of the Year award. 2017 was a different story: his final fantasy stat line was similar, but he was a different player. His completion percentage dropped 5 points, and he threw 13 interceptions and 300 fewer yards. While many will notice a steep drop off from week 10 (when Zeke Elliott dropped the appeal of his suspension his appeal), the Cowboys also played without the fully healthy services of their best offensive lineman in Tyron Smith. Another big question for Dallas these past couple years is Jason Garrett’s coaching. When the Cowboys are up he seems to be able to close out the game; when they are down he seems to lack the ingenuity to mix it up and spark the offense. Will the Cowboys be able to make another playoff run in 2018?
2018 is going to be another year of struggle for the Dallas Cowboys. It will likely be giving the ball to Zeke over and over and over again. Their wide receiver corps lacks any real play-maker. While they have a slew of guys who are more WR2s, they will have to play more like top-end wide receivers. Zeke will be the focal point of this offense; the hope is with Zeke back Dak will be able to return to his rookie year form. While the offense may be able to surprise at times (having one of the best offensive lines in the game will help), a bad defense and a wideout corp that might be the worst in the league will likely lead this team to a last-place finish in the NFC East.
Quarterbacks: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White
Dak PresGOAT, as he was known in Dallas in 2016, will try to return to that form this year. Dak has finished as a top 10 quarterback the past two years, and while I don’t see him finishing in the top 10 this year I imagine he’ll finish in the top 14. As long as Dak has Zeke and that offensive line he’ll be a top half quarterback. Further, he has Michael Gallup who was drafted this year to grow with him over the next couple years.
Cooper Rush and Mike White will backup Dak, and while White is more intriguing than Rush, I don’t see either threatening him. There is some talk that when Dak and Zeke are due to re-sign the Cowboys will only pay one and it will likely be Zeke. White could be the one who replaces Prescott, but I sincerely doubt this happens.
Running backs: Ezekiel Elliot, Bo Scarbrough, Rod Smith, Tavon Austin
Ezekiel Elliot is going to likely run all over the league this year and is my RB1 this year. In his two-year career so far he has only rushed for less than 80 yards twice: the first game of his NFL career, and week two in 2017 against Denver. Zeke should be the workhorse for the next three to four years and likely will stay with Dallas his entire career.
A top prospect coming out of high school, Rod Smith went to Ohio State to become an elite running back, only to be stuck behind a guy named Ezekiel Elliot. While he will again be stuck behind him in Dallas, he will likely see some passing down work. He may spell Zeke on a series or two but I don’t see much fantasy upside for him unless Zeke gets hurt.
Bo Scarbrough was a good back in college for Alabama, though for me he’s not overly talented. He is built like a tank and may steal some goal-line carries from Zeke, but other than that I don’t see much value for him. Tavon Austin is likely going to be used as a gadget player in Dallas. While he will likely have a couple of explosive plays during the year, I can’t imagine he does much for fantasy until we can see his usage.
Wide receivers: Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Noah Brown, Deonte Thompson
Allen Hurns will likely start the season as the Cowboys’ WR1. While this will be a run-heavy offense, Dak will have to throw the ball. I can’t imagine Hurns will put up numbers like he did in 2015 his breakout year, and he will likely contribute as a WR3 for our purposes.
Michael Gallup is the future star of this WR corps. He was a force at Colorado and could push to become the Cowboys’ number one as early as this year. His value and fantasy points could take a hit if Dak continues to struggle to throw the deep ball, but regardless of what happens this year Gallup will likely be the number one by 2019.
Terrance Williams will likely lineup opposite of Hurns, but I don’ t expect much from him this year. He finished as the 70th ranked wideout last year and will likely be even lower than that this year. He will be competing with Beasley, Thompson, Brown, and Austin for snaps in this offense. While he may hold them off for a bit, at some point this season he’ll likely be on the bench more than in the starting lineup.
Cole Beasley, much like Prescott, was dominant in 2016 and struggled mightily in 2017. Aside from some multi-touchdown games in weeks five and nine, he failed to score more than three points in 13 of his 15 fantasy games. The wide receiver corps has seen an overhaul this off-season, so it’s not crazy to see Beasley return to the 98 targets he got in 2016.
Noah Brown is a sleeper. He has good size and speed, but he came out of college too early. He is still only 21 years old and will likely need at least one more year of work. However, don’t be surprised if you see him in some this year and could be the future star next to Gallup.
Tight ends: Rico Gathers, Dalton Schultz, Blake Jarwin, Geoff Swaim
Blake Jarwin is the name getting all the buzz in Dallas. A capable receiver and a decent blocker, he could be the future replacement for Jason Witten. Dalton Schultz was drafted in the fourth round, likely to be Witten’s replacement. He is a more than capable blocker and receiver so he should see some early work. Gathers and Swaim will likely be the starters come week one. However, while both are good blockers neither is inspiring in the passing game.
Roster Sleepers: Noah Brown (WR) Dalton Schultz (TE) Blake Jarwin (TE) are the sleepers for me on this roster. Schultz and Jarwin will both likely eat into each other’s work, and Brown has a shot to be a lead wide receiver for them in the future.
Impact 2019 Free Agents:
Wide Receivers-Tavon Austin, Deonte Thompson, Cole Beasley. Both Austin and Thompson will likely be gone after this year, clearing room for some of the young wide receivers on this roster. While I don’t think it’s likely Beasley leaves, if he does it will lock in more time for the up-and-coming wideouts.
Tight End- Geoff Swaim. If he’s let go it could allow for more time for Schultz and Jarwin.
Running Back – Rod Smith. If he leaves or is not re-signed it could increase a role for Bo Scarbrough next year.
21. Oakland Raiders
Offensive line ranking per PFF- 7
Quarterback rank- 18
Offensive weapons rank- 27
The Oakland Raiders were a trendy Super Bowl pick coming into the ’17 season. Just a few weeks in, we all realized this was not the same team as the year previous, falling far short of their lofty expectations and finishing with a 6-10 record. We saw Jack Del Rio promptly fired and Jon Gruden hired to a ten year 100 million dollar contract. *in the best Ron Burgundy voice you’ve ever heard* “that escalated quickly!” We’ve heard a lot from Gruden on how he will run this new team and this once-explosive offense, mostly through Amari Cooper and Marshawn Lynch. They let Michael Crabtree go, and brought in many veterans including Doug Martin and Jordy Nelson who may still have something left in the tank. And of course, Derek Carr was once considered elite (despite only finishing as high as 14th among QBs). In year one can Jon Gruden turn this team around and return them to former glory? If not, they could easily be battling with Denver for the worst offense in the AFC West.
Quarterbacks: Derek Carr, Connor Cook, E.J. Manuel
Derek Carr is The Guy for this franchise and will look to reclaim the highs he reached in 2015. A top ten offensive line will hopefully help keep him upright and allow him more time to make throws. Suffering the transverse fracture last year is what is believed to be the main cause of Carr’s down year. He has had one of the best wide receiver tandems over the past couple years; losing Crabtree and gaining Jordy Nelson will likely not help his production much. 2018 will be another sub-par year for Carr. Connor Cook will likely be the backup here and has no real fantasy value unless Carr gets hurt. Even then, don’t expect much from Cook.
Running backs: Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington
Against all odds and reason, Marshawn finished as a top 20 back last year, and was actually fairly good at juking defenders and running through them. Lynch likely only has a year left in the NFL and will likely be splitting the ball with multiple backs this year. Gruden is known to run more of a west coast offense (and that will likely continue with new OC Greg Olsen), which includes a lot of passes to the back. Lynch doesn’t really excel at that, but while he will likely see some decrease in playing time, he’ll get the carries and work to finish as an RB2.
Doug Martin has been one of the most inconsistent backs over the past two years, with a 3.0 yards per carry average, and he likely won’t push Lynch much for the starter job. Martin does have a 49-catch year so he could be viewed as their new receiving back. I think he will likely be cut this year or next.
Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington will both be fighting to be the receiving back for this team. If one of these players can separate themselves they could be in for a decent fantasy season. The biggest problem is neither one of them is that special. I would put my money on Richard, but until and unless someone is injured (Lynch) or cut (Martin), they are both non-factors.
Wide receivers: Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, Ryan Switzer, Seth Roberts, Martavis Bryant, Marcell Ateman
Amari “brick hands” Cooper was possibly the biggest bust in fantasy football last year. Yet, despite his catch rate declining every year, going into 2018 his upside seems to be growing. Plans to have the offense flow more through him could at least bring him some volume-based value. He will also likely slide into the slot more as well, which should allow him some better match-ups. I have always perceived Cooper as a mid-tier WR2, he will likely continue on that trend and possibly bring some upside in the top-tier WR2 range for the future.
Jordy Nelson was brought over in the off-season and could be a fantasy sleeper this year. For most of his career, he’s been undervalued and unappreciated despite his elite level production. Nelson was leading the league in touchdown receptions last year until Aaron Rodgers got hurt, at which point he fell off a cliff. Even in more interesting is that Jordy thrives where Amari has suffered most of his career: the red zone. Jordy will likely be the main target in the red zone, so while he may not have a ton of yards, he will likely lead the team in touchdowns.
Ryan Switzer was traded away from possibly the worst wide receiver corps in the game. While some think that he may have some future here, I just don’t see it. Roberts and Bryant will likely play opposite Nelson when Amari is in the slot and may seem some slot play when the others are on the outside. Bryant is more intriguing to me as he’s shown he can make big plays. However, between the suspension rumors and the competition for reps, I don’t see much from either of these guys.
Marcell Ateman was drafted this year and could force himself into some playing time, but isn’t going to be much of a force until 2019, where he will likely be the number two to Amari. Worth a stash and wait in dynasty leagues for now.
Tight ends: Jared Cook, Derek Carrier, Lee Smith
Jared Cook could be a surprising top-12 tight end this year. Cook had a good year last year despite struggles in the red zone (86 total targets, and that’s with a better WR corps to contend with). With not much around him this year he could see an increase in targets and possibly finish second behind Cooper. The other guys are non-factors here.
Roster Sleepers: Jared Cook (TE) for possibly the next year until they are able to get more younger talented skill players on offense. Marcell Ateman (WR) will likely be the number two behind Amari Cooper as early as next year.
Impact 2019 Free Agents:
Tight End- Jared Cook. If he has a good year he will likely re-sign and still be the number one here.
Running Back-Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin. Lynch has already retired once so it wouldn’t surprise me if he does again, and even if he’s back he’ll be 33. Barring top-15 production from Martin, I can’t imagine he’ll finish the season with the team, let alone come back next year.
Wide Receiver-Martavius Bryant. Bryant likely won’t do much this year and be gone next year.
20. Houston Texans
Offensive line ranking per PFF- 32
Quarterback rank- 5
Offensive weapons rank- 18
A promising season for the Texans was soon ravaged by injuries that completely tanked what looked to be a playoff contender. Getting their leaders back on offense and defense in Deshaun Watson and JJ Watt will be paramount for their success in 2018. The offense looks primed to pick up right where Watson left off, but the defense (especially the secondary) continues to look a little bit questionable. There will obviously still be many questions about Watson’s knee that he can likely silence with a good preseason. Can the Texans dethrone the Jaguars in 2018?
If Watson can return healthy and stay healthy he has a chance to be a top five quarterback on a weekly basis. He will be relying on DeAndre Hopkins, our number two wide receiver and someone who will be a top option for the foreseeable future. After these two, the offensive talent drops off- Lamar Miller has been declining at a steep rate the past few years, and he’s running behind the worst offensive line last year with no real improvement this year. While the studs of this offense will produce, the offense as a whole is not looking good.
Quarterbacks: Deshaun Watson, Joe Webb, Brandon Weeden
Watson was the belle of the ball for seven weeks last year until a torn ACL in practice (I mean, we talking about practice) knocked him out for the season. On a points-per-game basis, he finished as the best quarterback last year. While this is his second ACL tear, Watson already looks ready to go going into training camp. He might have to run for his life more often than most fantasy owners want, but Watson looks to be part of the young QB class following this golden generation. Webb and Weeden will play if Watson suffers an injury but neither has any fantasy value even if they do take the field.
Running backs: Lamar Miller, D’Onta Foreman, Tyler Ervin, Alfred Blue
Lamar Miller has been one of the most consistent backs over the past four years, and while he has been declining the past two his volume alone allows him to continually finish in the RB2 range. With no real threat behind him, Miller is set to continue his workload, but I expect his value to decline sharply going into 2019.
Foreman showed flashes of a lead back last year before a serious Achilles tear, averaging four yards a carry in his rookie season behind one of the worst lines in the NFL. While Foreman is poised to be the back of the future of the Texans, Achilles injuries are one of the more difficult injuries to return from. There is a strong chance that he’ll start 2018 on the P.U.P. list and even when he returns likely won’t put up amazing numbers.
Ervin and Blue will likely compete for some receiving work out of the backfield and backup Miller until Foreman is back and healthy. Blue has never been able to capitalize when given the ball, and Ervin has struggled to stay healthy. Unless Miller goes down with an injury neither has much fantasy value.
Wide receivers: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Bruce Ellington, Sammie Coates, Keke Coutee, Braxton Miller
Hopkins proved in 2017 that volume is king in fantasy. Hopkins was the most targeted wide receiver last year despite sitting in week 17 and not having Watson weeks 9-16. While some expect his volume to go down this year with the number of wide receivers around him, I don’t think it decreases enough to knock him down for fantasy. He is still a solid target and top three player at his position.
Will Fuller looked to be an all-time great wide receiver last year when playing with Watson, averaging 17.7 points a game when they shared the field. After Watson’s injury, however, Fuller failed to score more than five points in any game. While no one expects him to continue that pace this year with Watson, he will likely be able to return decent value. Fuller is a legit deep threat and a perfect complement to Hopkins; as long as Watson is healthy Fuller will be fantasy relevant.
Keke Coutee is looking to become what Braxton Miller never could with this offense. Coutee was a good receiver in college and could be an explosive option in the slot. Drafted this year he shouldn’t have to do much to beat out Miller, and he’s worth a stash right now as it will be hard to predict where he falls in the offense until we see it.
Bruce Ellington and Sammie Coates will likely be fighting for roster spots and spot starts. Ellington had a decent year with the Texans last year and looks poised to try and contribute this year as well. Ellington will likely have games here and there where he is fantasy relevant but nothing on a consistent basis.
Tight ends: Stephen Anderson, Ryan Griffin, Jordan Akins
Anderson and Griffin both had a couple of good weeks last year; neither one really established himself as the starter, so they will likely continue their timeshare. Jordan Akins is one of my sleepers on this roster. He is a little bit older than most college prospects and likely will be able to contribute right off the bat.
Roster Sleepers: D’Onta Foreman (RB) will eventually be the lead back, though he may not be healthy for most of this year. Keke Coutee (WR) will be another great explosive weapon at the wide receiver position. Jordan Akins (TE) is a fast, big-bodied tight end who could be yet another weapon for Watson.
Impact 2019 Free Agents:
Wide Receiver- Bruce Ellington and Sammie Coates. Likely one will stay with the Texans but it will be mostly for depth.
Tight End-Stephen Anderson. Unless he runs away with the job he will likely be gone, and even if he comes back I expect he won’t have much of a role in the offense if Atkins establishes himself like I think he will.
19. New York Giants
Offensive line ranking per PFF- 25
Quarterback rank- 31
Offensive weapons rank- 2
2017 was a massive disaster for the New York Giants: after making the playoffs in 2016 they finished 3-13. They fired their head coach and benched Eli Manning, ending his streak of 210 games started. Their top three wide receivers (Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, and Sterling Shepard) missed multiple games, with Beckham and Marshall both missing almost the entire season. Add to that a run game that has been absolutely useless for several years now. Enter quarterback guru Pat Shurmur. He has gotten career years out of Sammy “sleeves” Bradford and Case Keenum, and will likely give Eli Manning some career resurgence. Still saddled with a weak offensive line but with weapons all over the field, Shurmer will be looking to bring the Giants one more Super Bowl run on the twilight of Eli’s career.
This is one offense my numbers could be dead wrong on. Their biggest weakness here is offensive line and Quarterback. However, they have a top-five option at running back, wide receiver, and tight end, and if they all fulfill that expectation Eli will produce. Adding Saquon Barkley to this running game could give them their first elite rusher since Brandon Jacobs, and that’s saying something. If Eli can return to some decent form this team could quickly go from a 3-13 team to a 10-6 team in the playoffs.
Quarterbacks: Eli Manning, Davis Webb, Kyle Lauletta
Eli Manning is looking to add one more Super Bowl ring to his collection. While the past two years have not been great for Manning, he has never had the weapons around him he does now. Having a wide receiver, tight end, and a running back all who could finish in the top 5 of their positions will translate to success for Eli. While he will likely not finish in the top five, with the team around him he has a chance to finish close to the top ten again for the next couple of years.
Davis Webb and Kyle Lauletta will both be battling for the backup job. Davis was given opportunities and has shown a lot of potential, and Lauletta had a great college career at Richmond. But neither will have much value unless Eli gets hurt.
Running backs: Saquon Barkley, Jonathan Stewart, Wayne Gallman, Paul Perkins
Saquon Barkley was the number two overall pick in this past year’s draft and one of the most interesting prospects we’ve seen in a while. While he is a very good rusher, he may be an even better receiver. Saquon will be the focal point of the rushing attack. Jonathan Stewart has spent most of his career splitting work with different backs, and as a result, may have aged well for an RB. While he hasn’t exactly been inspiring in camp he will likely see some work in goal-line situations.
Wayne Gallman was supposed to be the back of the future when he was drafted last year. While he wasn’t terrible he did nothing to secure the role. Gallman will likely force his way into the rotation (especially if Stewart struggles) but ass long as Barkley is healthy I don’t see much else going for him.
Wide receivers: Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, Cody Latimer, Roger Lewis, Travis Rudolph
Odell Beckham Jr. was one of the best wide receivers the game in 2015-2016. He was on pace last year to match the numbers he put up in his sensational 2016 season until he suffered a pedal ankle fracture against the Chargers in week 5. The addition of Barkley could help the passing game as defenses won’t be able to just key on Beckham. As long as he has healed from his ankle injury, and there’s been nothing to indicate that he hasn’t, Beckham should once again finish in the top five at his position.
Many hoped Shepard would take a leap forward in his second year, especially when Beckham went down with an injury. But Shepard suffered injuries of his own (ankle sprains and a pulled hamstring) and only played in 11 games. Shepard will likely be the fourth option in this offense behind Beckham, Engram, and Barkley. This might also help him some as the defenses are likely to key more on those guys. While he is going to get you points, he will need to find the end zone on a consistent basis to be a contributor, as he did in 2016 (eight scores).
Cody Latimer was believed to be the future in Denver at the wide receiver position. He was mostly a special teams player but saw career highs in catches and yards last year. Latimer is the most likely to win the third position on this team, but won’t see any fantasy value unless someone is injured.
Tight ends: Evan Engram, Jerell Adams, Rhett Ellison
Evan Engram came into the year with some buzz due to how athletic he was and the fact that Adams had disappointed the year before, but no one expected the great season he had. While some believe it had a lot to do with multiple injuries at the wide receiver position, Engram still showed his worth every week. He did drop a team-high six passes last year, and at times didn’t seem to be on the same page as Eli, but he will now be going into his second year. He and Eli can work closely to learn the new offense and develop a rapport. Engram will likely regress a bit from last year due to all the weapons the team now has. However, he should still finish in the top ten of the weak tight end position, maybe even top five.
Roster Sleepers: Jerell Adams (TE) was highly touted coming out of college. While an injury to Engram will be needed to make him relevant, if they use two tight end sets he might get some work.
Impact 2019 Free Agents:
Wide Receiver- Odell Beckahm Jr. While he doesn’t have a contract as of right now, chances are that even if he’s not signed before the season he will be staying with the Giants. If he doesn’t, it could change their whole outlook for 2019.
18. Indianapolis Colts
Offensive line ranking per PFF- 17
Offensive weapons rank- 22
2018 and the future of the Colt’s all rely on the health of Andrew Luck, who hasn’t taken a snap in two years now. While as of now he has started throwing and all the talk is he’ll be ready for opening day, we’ve heard that before and need to see it to believe it. Frank Reich has come in and taken over as the new head coach. Reich ran a successful offense in Philadelphia last year helping lead them to and winning a Super Bowl. Multiple high draft picks to help improve an offensive line, can a new Andrew Luck help lead the Colts back to the playoffs?
For 2018 Andrew Luck the hope is that he will stay healthy, and a healthy Luck does a lot for this offense. Last time Luck was healthy he lead T.Y. Hilton to a top-five finish at his position and the Colt’s to the playoffs. While the wide receiver core has taken a step back the running backs have two solid options. Add in two dependable tight ends, and the Colts could be a thriving offense once again.
Quarterbacks: Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Brad Kaaya
Andrew Luck, when healthy, has a high ceiling and could finish at the top of his position. However, re-injury is a serious factor here. Shoulder injuries for quarterbacks are scary, add in the fact that he may have altered his delivery or any changes to his play style. Luck has all the talent in the world and if that shoulder is healthy, he could quickly return to top-five at his position.
Jacoby Brissett is the backup here who has proven he could do it on a consistent level. He came over last year and was given one week to learn the offense and run it, and he succeeded, even if it didn’t show in the win column.
Brad Kaaya is an interesting prospect here who had a successful college career. While he obviously won’t ever replace Luck, if given some time and proves he could play he could be trade bait. He is someone to watch for the future.
Running backs: Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, Christine Michael, Robert Turbin, Josh Ferguson
Marlon Mack will be the guy who gets the first shot here. While Mack showed some flashes last year when Gore was out, I am not a believer in him. He’s been consistently average when on the field. Mack is not a guy who looks to take it up the middle but constantly bounce it outside. Where Mack could succeed is in the passing game, with 33 targets in just 14 games. Nyheim Hines is an explosive back and was a great pick by the Colts in this year’s draft. While he is a bit undersized, his running talent has been underrated. Where Hines will likely succeed and return the most value is in the passing game. With 89 catches and 933 yards in college, he can be a true difference maker in the passing game.
Jordan Wilkins is my guy to lead this team in rushing. He is a big back who is about as fast as Mack. He can take the ball up the middle and bounce it to the outside when needed. Wilkins was suspended his junior year due to an administrative error and when he came back his senior year showed off his rushing skills and receiving skills. While Wilkins won’t likely be the starter I do think he’ll take the starting role, or get into a timeshare with Mack sooner rather than later.
Wide receivers: T.Y. Hilton, Chester Rodgers, Ryan Grant, Deon Cain, Daurice Fountain, Kolby Listenbee
Hilton will likely be one of the happiest players in camp if Luck is really healthy. With Brissett under center last season he was the epitome of boom or bust, with five games of only five points and five games of double-digit points. When he last played with Luck he was a consistent deep threat and finished the season as WR5 overall. He is the most talented player of this group and will likely be targeted a fair share, as long as Luck is healthy Hilton should be a wr1 for fantasy.
Chester Rodgers and Ryan Grant will likely be competing for the next two spots. While neither is extremely exciting, playing with Luck will give them some fantasy value. Grant is the favorite to win the second starting spot, and if he does he’ll likely have some value as a flex player on most weeks. Deon Cain could push for some serious snaps this season. He had a decent college career and has a good size/speed combination, plus it helps when the wide receiver corps are as bad as it is. He has impressed so far in camp and could be a future outside receiver for this offense.
Daurice Fountain came in with a little bit more hype than Cain: he has explosive speed and can accelerate past defenders with ease at times. While he likely won’t be much of fantasy stud this year, Fountain could thrive across Hilton in the coming years.
Tight ends: Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron, Erik Swoope
Jack Doyle has been the consistent target here the past couple years, and when Luck was healthy he showed he liked to target him. However, he’s never had another tight end of significance competing with him. While Doyle will still be fantasy relevant, he won’t be the guy he was, and being the much better blocker likely means that he’ll be used more for runs than passing.
Eric Ebron never fully lived up to the hype in Detroit. While Matthew Stafford is no slouch he also had many better weapons around than Luck has in Indy. Ebron will likely get his fair share of targets, especially in the middle of the field and red-zone. Ebron has a chance to continue he late-season form last year and finish again in the top 10 at the tight end position this year.
Roster Sleepers: Nyheim Hines (RB) and Jordan Wilkins (RB) both have a chance to take full control of this backfield. Deon Cain (WR) and Daurice Fountain (WR) will both likely be the future wide receivers of this offense, though Fountain likely won’t see much playing time till 2019.
Impact 2019 Free Agents:
Wide Receiver- Chester Rodgers and Ryan Grant. Both could be gone after this year leaving the young wide receivers to take over.
Running Back- Robert Turbin and Christine Michael. Both will likely be gone after this year, and I don’t imagine they do much of anything this year unless there is an injury.
17. San Francisco 49ers
Offensive line ranking per PFF- 16
Quarterback rank- 6
Offensive weapons rank- 29
The Kyle Shanahan/ John Lynch Era for the 49ers seems to be on the upswing- after a 1-10 start to the season, San Francisco made the move to get Jimmy Garoppolo from New England, and Jimmy GQ fired off five straight wins to finish the season. While its hard to buy into such a small sample size, Shanahan is highly regarded and looks to have this team already on track. Can the 49ers become contenders in an already loaded NFC conference?
Many have San Francisco as a sleeper to make the playoffs this year, due in no small part to the presence of Jerick McKinnon and Jimmy GQ. One of the biggest problems here is their lack of good wide receivers. While they have multiple players with upside they will be counting a lot on Jimmy G. to lead them to prosperity. While I do think the 49ers are close to being serious contenders, I don’t see a huge move upwards for them this year.
Quarterbacks: Jimmy Garoppolo, C.J. Beathard
Jimmy GQ is one of the most polarizing players going into the year. He threw for over 300 yards in each of the five games he played, throwing for 8.76 yards per attempt which led the league by a wide margin. He had to learn a new offense mid-season last year and had all this success without having a true number one wide receiver or an amazing running game. His lack of touchdowns last year is a little concerning, but nonetheless he looks poised to be a top 10 quarterback for years to come. Beathard showed last year he can be a serviceable back up, and if Garoppolo goes down he will be somewhat fantasy relevant.
Running backs: Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida, Joe Williams, Jeremy McNichols
McKinnon has been the fantasy darling all off-season, having signed a four-year contract to ostensibly lead the backfield. However, it would seem most people are buying Kyle Shanahan and his offense more than McKinnon, who failed to truly seize the lead back role in Minnesota despite multiple opportunities (career average of 3.8 ypc). However, McKinnon thrives in the passing game, where Kyle Shanahan has been able to make many running backs fantasy relevant. If he can stay healthy he will likely be a top-15 running back. However, don’t be surprised if he ends up splitting carries with another running back when it comes to rushing.
Matt Breida was an average back last year in the passing game, but showed he could handle it when called upon. If McKinnon goes down with an injury he’ll have some value, but as long as McKinnon is healthy I see a ton of work for Breida. Conversely, Joe Williams cannot be overlooked in this backfield. Shanahan and Lynch moved up into the fourth round to draft him because they believed in his talent. Williams is an accomplished runner and could seriously push to split carries with McKinnon. It will all come down to his work ethic as he had previously quit football to take a year off.
Wide Receivers: Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, Aaron Burbridge, Trent Taylor, Aldrick Robinson
Pierre Garcon is the most experienced pass catcher on this roster, but he also missed the whole second half of the season with an injury. So, he has yet to have a chance to play with Jimmy. He will likely come back and reclaim his role as the field stretcher and number one in this offense, and as long as Jimmy is there he has some fantasy value as a WR2. Marquise Goodwin is one of the fastest and most athletic players in the league; as a former Olympic sprinter he can stretch the field with the best of them. While in his past five seasons in the league he wasn’t used much at the wide receiver position. What can’t be overlooked is his connection with Jimmy last season. In their five game together, Goodwin caught 67% of his targets and averaged 76.8 yards a game. If this connection continues, Goodwin could climb up the wide receiver ranks as quickly as he runs.
Trent Taylor quietly finished third among all rookie wide receivers in catches last year. While Taylor profiles to be more of a PPR stud in the slot, he doesn’t have quite the explosiveness as a Jarvis Landry. He will also probably be fourth in line for targets so he may not see as many as he did last year. If Taylor is targeted like last year he will likely finish as a WR4 again with some WR3 upside based on touchdowns. Dante Pettis was drafted this year and is coming in with a lot of hype. He has struggled in camp so far and looks primed to be at least a special teams’ contributor early in the year. However, Pettis has the skills to be a good WR2 and could start to show flashes as early as this year, especially if there is an injury. He will likely start seeing regular work in 2019.
Tight ends: George Kittle, Garrett Celek
George Kittle had himself a great rookie year and was overshadowed by just how extraordinary Evan Engram was. Kittle formed a good connection with Jimmy last year and many expect that to continue this year, especially since he’s already an accomplished pass blocker. Kittle’s struggle with injuries last year is a bit concerning, although he played every game he was knocked up with something almost every game. Tight end is a weak position for fantasy and anyone could quickly become an elite option at the position; Kittle will be an elite option this year.
Roster Sleepers: Joe Williams (RB) could start splitting carries this year. Dante Pettis (WR) is likely mostly a special teams player this year but could be a big part of the offense in 2019. Aaron Burbridge (WR) is a big talented wideout who struggled to get on the field last year but he could be a possible breakout.
2019 Impact Free Agents:
San Francisco doesn’t have any real impact players hitting free agency next year.