NFL Offenses: Rankings and Analysis (9-1)
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 last installment of this series, starting with our 9th through 1st 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 WR1s have seen a dip in overall target shares, WR3s, 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 worse 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 feel free to comment below or hit me up on twitter, @SportsfanaticMB
9. New England Patriots
Offensive line rank per PFF- 11
Quarterback rank- 13
Offensive weapons rank- 20
In 2017, the Patriots made their eighth Super Bowl appearance in the 17 seasons under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. However, the Eagles stunned them, 41-33. It was a disappointing finish to yet another highly successful season. Tom Brady once again led one of the more prolific offenses, even without his main target out of the slot in Julian Edelman, who tore his ACL in the preseason. He still had the league’s best tight end in Rob Gronkowski, and Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan stepped up at wide receiver. Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead were the big surprises in the backfield. The sour taste from Super Bowl LII continued into the offseason. Brady and Gronk were noncommittal about the coming season and for the first time in his career Brady didn’t show up to mini-camp. The Patriots then proceeded to trade away their best wide receiver in Brandin Cooks and let running back Dion Lewis leave after a great season. Are we finally seeing an end to the dynasty?
New England still looks poised to continue being a top-10 offense in 2018. However, they have lost a lot of pieces. Chris Hogan and Edelman will look to lead the receiving corps, and newly drafted running back Sony Michel will look to carry the load. Edelman will still be a PPR monster, even at 30. Hogan was a top-12 option at wide receiver until he got hurt. Brady has played with what is considered to be lesser weapons before. But I think he’s going to start declining some this year, and if he does this offense could be in some trouble.
Quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer
Brady is in the argument for the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. This year he will be 41 years old, which is unprecedented for starting quarterbacks in the league. As stated, I believe this is the year Brady starts to decline. He still has a good team around him, though losing Isaiah Wynn for the season weakens his offensive line. As long as Brady can continue to do what he does or be close he will be a great quarterback again in 2018.
Running backs: Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, Jeremy Hill, James White
Michel will likely be the lead back here, though with New England you never know. He was the better back in college when he split time with Nick Chubb. Michel is the most talented of this group, but he does struggle with fumbles. If that continues he will be benched by Belichick. He should lead the group in carries and likely catches and is the running back to own going forward.
Burkhead has been a good player for the Patriots. He suffered a knee injury in the preseason and has been held out to preserve him for the regular season. If Burkhead is healthy he will likely get the bulk of carries for this offense to start the season. Michel is more talented than him but he will have some fantasy value because he has the trust of Brady and Belichick.
James White, the real playoff MVP for the Patriots, will be their receiving down back. White will have his games where he is fantasy relevant but I don’t see him being a huge contributor throughout the season. There has been some talk he will be in the slot position while Edelman is out. If that is true he will be worth a look at the start of the season.
Hill will likely be a goal line and short yardage guy. He showed some promise early in his career with the Bengals, and while I don’t envision a Blount year for him like 2016, he will likely get a fair amount of touchdowns with this offense.
Wide receivers: Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson, Phillip Dorsett, Braxton Berrios, Matt Slater
Edelman will be Brady’s guy again this year once he comes back from suspension. Edelman and Brady have a unique chemistry and has Brady’s trust more than anyone else in this offense. Losing four games this year will hurt his value some but he will likely still finish as a low-end WR2/high-end WR3. Edelman is 32 years old so he likely only have a few more top years left.
Hogan has a chance to be a real breakout in this offense. He is their deep threat and was a top-10 wide receiver last year before he got injured. If he can stay healthy he has a legitimate chance to repeat the numbers he was producing last year. Patterson gained a lot of hype coming out of college and early in his NFL career, especially because of the speed he had. His biggest issue was he just couldn’t learn how to run routes for some reason. I don’t see that changing much here, and while he may not have immense fantasy value, he will likely have some as the Patriots will put him in positions to succeed.
Dorsett was a first round pick for a reason: he has a lot of speed. Dorsett couldn’t get on the field much in Indianapolis but he will in New England, and he could fast become a top target in the passing game. Berrios is the likely successor for Edelman once he leaves New England. Edelman had to sit and play special teams for three years before he made his mark in this offense, and I expect the same from Berrios this year.
Tight ends: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen
Gronk is one of the best tight ends to play the game, even though Jalen Ramsey doesn’t think so. There was a lot of retirement talk coming from Gronk after the Super Bowl loss this year. After showing up to camp and saying everything is good, Gronk got a new contract that allows him to make more money this year, as long as he fulfills the requirements in his contract. As long as he is playing he is a top three tight end in the game.
Roster Sleepers: Sony Michel (RB) could break out this year, but this backfield is always full of multiple players. Braxton Berrios (WR) is likely a few years away from a true breakout season, but is worth stashing.
2019 Impact Free Agents:
Wide Receiver- Cordarrelle Patterson, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett. Patterson likely won’t be back but whether he is let go or comes back doesn’t affect this offense in a huge way. Hogan is the current deep threat, and if he doesn’t come back next year that could lead to a resurgence for Dorsett, assuming he stays. Dorsett has a chance to be a good deep threat for this offense and chances are not all three of these guys are back. Whoever is kept will see an increase in work. If Dorsett leaves, watch to see where he lands.
8. Los Angeles Rams
Offensive line rank per PFF- 10
Quarterback rank- 10
Offensive weapons rank- 14
2017 LA Rams vs. 2016 LA Rams are a perfect example of what happens when you replace an atrocious head coach (Jeff Fisher) with a rising star (Sean McVay). Perhaps the Rams hit a home run in their hiring of McVay (and it certainly looks like they did), but we’d argue that getting rid of Fisher and his useless staff was the bigger catalyst for the Rams’ turnaround. Fisher was the head coach of the Rams for five years. His teams never finished higher than 23rd in total yardage, meaning he was coaching a bottom-10 offense every season. McVay turned the Rams into an elite offense in one season. The Rams’ magical season ended in a competitive Wild Card game against the Falcons, but LA has a legitimate Super Bowl contender on its hands with their upstart offense and a nasty defense, so McVay’s challenge will be to continue to get Goff to play at a championship level. And it looks like they’re trying to do just that- they loaded up the offensive line, have one of (if not the) top option at running back, and they traded for a top wide receiver in Brandin Cooks. All of these players will be buying into McVay and his offensive philosophy and coaching. However, usually, these super teams don’t turn out as well as many hope. Can the Rams dominate the NFC this year?
Quarterbacks: Jared Goff, Sean Mannion
Jared Goff took a huge leap forward last year, from all-time bust to star NFL quarterback. While many believe Goff is more of a system QB than an elite player (me included), he will still be playing in McVay’s offense, therefore he should and likely will continue to hold serious fantasy value.
Running backs: Todd Gurley, John Kelly, Malcolm Brown, Justin Davis
Todd Gurley finished the year as a man among boys. He destroyed teams and was a likely reason you either won or lost in the playoffs last year. Gurley increased his catches, which boosted his fantasy value even more. Unless Gurley gets hurt he is the likely top option for the coming year. However, I could see Kelly eating into some of his workload as the Rams may want to keep Gurley fresh.
John Kelly had a magnificent preseason and locked up the backup role to Gurley. While Gurley will get a majority of the touches out of this backfield, I do think Kelly could get some work. And if Gurley is ever hurt, Kelly will likely be a top option and adequate replacement.
Wide receivers: Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Mike Thomas, Josh Reynolds, Pharoh Cooper
Cooks was traded to his third team in as many years, joining the Rams from the Patriots in the offseason. Cooks will take over the vacant Sammy Watkins role, which may not be a good thing. He will likely be the third option in the offense on most plays, which is largely why Watkins wasn’t targeted much last year (Goff couldn’t make it that deep into his reads). Cooks got the long-term contract and so he will be here for years to come, but might not be the top option we all hoped he would become. Woods will continue to be the number one of this offense. He produced in that role last year finishing as the 32nd wide receiver last year. If Goff can continue to grow in this offense and work on his deep ball accuracy he has a chance to improve his fantasy output from last year.
Cooper Kupp and Goff had a great connection last year and we saw it play out all year, as Kupp finished with the most points for a wide receiver in Los Angeles. Like many other teams, their slot wide receiver has become a pivotal role in the offense and Kupp fits the bill here. With their connection continuing to grow and Kupp continuing to get the red zone looks, he will likely finish as their top wide receiver in points again this year. Josh Reynolds is someone to watch in this offense. While he has a lot of talent ahead of him, there have been rave reviews coming out about him in camp. Reynolds has a wide catch radius and great feet and body control for a wide receiver who is 6’3.
Tight ends: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett
Everett has a chance to be a legitimate sleeper at the tight end position this year. He has great offensive skills and while both he and Higbee will be battling to be on the field, I think Everett will get a bulk of the work.
Higbee, while not quite as talented offensively as Everett, is a much better blocker than him, which could lead to him being on the field more. Whichever of these two gets on the field more could have huge fantasy upside in a high-octane offense.
Josh Reynolds (WR), though buried at the moment, has a lot of talent. John Kelly (RB) showed off his talent all offseason could split some carries with Gurley. And Gerald Everett (TE) could be the red zone target in a high-octane offense.
2019 Impact Free Agents:
No Impact offensive free agents for the Rams next year.
7. Minnesota Vikings
Offensive line rank per PFF- 28
Quarterback rank- 4
Offensive weapons rank- 5
The Vikings had a magical season, with a play that is bound to be the most famous in team history – Stefon Diggs’ Minneapolis Miracle to beat to Saints. But it ended in abject disappointment, with Minnesota getting torched 38-7 in Philly for the NFC Championship Game, just one win shy of being the first team to play in the Super Bowl in its own home stadium. It was a crazy year for the Vikings as Sam Bradford started week 1 and lit up the New Orleans Saints, only to struggle with a knee issue and be out the rest of the year. Enter journeyman Case Keenum, who ended up starting 16 games (including the playoffs) and went 12-4 in those games. He threw 22 TD to just 7 INT during the regular season. They also ended up losing star running back Dalvin Cook to an ACL injury after four games. The Vikings also had to replace Pat Shurmur, who took the head job with the Giants. It’s possible they upgraded, landing Eagles QB coach John DeFilippo to call their plays (who was part of the staff that helped turn Carson Wentz into an MVP candidate). By far their biggest move though was bringing over quarterback Kirk Cousin on a three-year contract, making them instant Super Bowl contenders and an awesome fantasy team.
2018 looks to be the year for the Minnesota Vikings. While Case Keenum was good for this offense, Kirk Cousins is considered a major upgrade at the position. Add in two options at wide receiver who could both finish near the top of their position and a dynamic running back who looks to be fully healthy, this offense could very easily be the best in the NFL. The only thing holding them back is their offensive line injuries.
Quarterback: Kirk Cousins, Trevor Siemian, Kyle Sloter
Kirk will be the guy here for at least the next three years. This is by far the best offensive weapons Kirk has had around him. Kirk usually starts off slow but has a chance to finish as the top option at quarterback with the weapons around him (assuming he limits his turnovers). Siemian will be the backup but if Cousins goes down it will be hard to rely on him.
Running backs: Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray, Mike Boone, C.J. Ham, Roc Thomas
Dalvin Cook was on a meteoric rise last year before he suffered a torn ACL. He was held out most of the preseason to get him ready for the start of the regular season. What worries me a little bit for Cook this year is how good Murray has been. While Cook is still the guy here, Murray will likely get more work than many predicted especially at the start of the season. He will be the backup if Cook gets hurt. However, Murray will be a free agent at the end of this year so he will likely get run down as much as possible before he’s let go.
Roc Thomas was one of my rookie darlings. While not big in stature, Thomas plays with a fire inside of him and plays tough every down. Thomas will likely be a special teams player this year, but watch out for him in 2019 as someone who could come in and split some time with Cook.
Wide receivers: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Stacy Coley, Laquon Treadwell, Tavarres King, Korey Robertson
Diggs has the chance to become a complete wide receiver this year with the best quarterback he has had in his career throwing him the ball. As long as Diggs can stay healthy and play most of the season he will be a top option and the deep threat of a deadly offense. Thielen will likely be the guy playing in the short and intermediate area, occasionally getting some down the field work. These types of guys usually thrive with Cousins and I expect Thielen to as well.
Treadwell looked to be a wasted pick coming into this year, yet it seems that new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo has found a way to unlock him. Treadwell has looked good in camp and in the preseason games, and while I don’t expect him to produce on the same level as Diggs and Thielen, he’s a fine third option. If that’s the case he’s someone who could start to produce this year.
Tight ends: Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Conklin, David Morgan
Rudolph is the guy here and there is no question about that. While I don’t expect Rudolph to do much in between the 20s, he has a chance to be their main red zone threat. Cousins has referenced throwing to him like throwing to “a big couch” because of his size and soft hands.
Roc Thomas (RB) has the chance to be a guy who splits carriers and some receiving work with Cook as early as 2019. And if Laquon Treadwell (WR) produces some this year he could get more of a role; he was a former first-round pick and has the talent.
Impact 2019 Free Agents:
Running Back- Latavius Murray. more than likely he will be gone after this year. If he is I think it gives guys like Mike Boone and Roc Thomas more carries.
6. Green Bay Packers
Offensive line rank per PFF- 9
Quarterback rank- 1
Offensive weapons rank- 11
In the first five games of the season, the Green Bay Packers looked deadly. Green Bay went 4-1, ranked 11th in total offensive yardage, and 12th in yards per play. However, in that 6th game against the Minnesota Vikings, Aaron Rodgers went down and so did the Packers chances at the playoffs. Following Rodgers’ injury, which included a Week 16 game in which he came back rusty to try to salvage a playoff chance for the Packers, The Packers went 5-8, ranked 29th in total yardage, and 28th in yards per play. Backup QB Brett Hundley was horrible, and the Packers couldn’t overcome injuries at other key positions such as WR, OL, and defense.
2018 for the Packers will hopefully see them return to their former glory. Rodgers just signed a new multi-year deal which will likely keep him as a Packer for his career. I think the Packers have quite a few weapons for Rodgers to lean on in 2018. Adams took a huge leap forward last year and that was with Brett Hundley, Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams together could provide a dynamic backfield. They also added Jimmy Graham at tight end, and though he likely won’t do much between the 20s he could be a huge red zone threat for Rodgers. Regardless of the weapons they have, this offense is not the same without Aaron Rodgers, and as long as he is healthy they will all continue to produce.
Quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, DeShone Kizer, Tim Boyle
Rodgers, a perennial MVP candidate, is back healthy and ready to take the Packers back to the playoffs. At the moment, he has a depleted wide receiver corps but three decent running backs, and they gave him a red zone threat tight end. Regardless of his weapons, Rodgers is just too good. He will finish at the top of the position barring an injury.
Running backs: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Ty Montgomery
Aaron Jones will be suspended for the first two games of the season. Jones is likely going to be the best back of this group but he will have to fight to get his job back. He is a better runner than both Williams and Montgomery but struggles in the passing game more than the other two. While Jones will likely lose out on receiving work he will be the workhorse of the backfield.
Williams will be the starter for the first two games of the season with Jones suspended. Williams isn’t quite the pass catcher Montgomery is or runner that Aaron Jones is, but he is the most all-around back that Green Bay has. He will likely split carries with Jones, and receiving work with Montgomery. Unless there is an injury I don’t see much upside for Williams.
Montgomery, a converted wide receiver, is the best pass catcher out of the backfield. For the first two games, he will likely get a bulk of the receiving work. Once Jones comes back I do think Montgomery will be splitting time with the other two.
Wide receivers: Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison, Randall Cobb, J’Mon Moore, Jake Kumerow, Equanimeous St. Brown, Marquez Valdes-Scantling
Adams is the stud of this group and is likely going to be targeted heavily in this offense. He has the most trust of this group and showed last year he can be an all-around stud, and he did that with Brett Hundley. I think Adams has a legitimate shot to finish top 5 at wide receiver as long as he can stay healthy.
Allison is the likely number three in this offense. We saw him play some last year but we haven’t seen much. His spot seems secure for now as the rookies behind him mostly haven’t shown much. He can’t be comfortable as some of these rookies have great upside, and being in an offense with Rodgers gives you more fantasy upside than most.
Cobb will be the number two option and their slot wide receiver. He has played seven years in Green Bay, and his 8th year seems to be in question as rumors have come out that he might be traded. As long as he is on Green Bay he has fantasy upside as Rodgers will go to him when needed.
Kumerow showed out in the preseason and is the likely 4th option in this offense. That likely doesn’t mean much for this year, but she’s omeone to watch who could take over Allison’s spot or take over for Cobb next year.
Tight ends: Jimmy Graham, Lance Kendricks, Marcedes Lewis
Graham came over from Seattle in free agency and immediately became someone many were targeting. Add in the fact that in the second preseason game Rodgers targetted him in the red zone and he scored, fantasy players all over the world lost their minds. I think the brakes need to be pumped just a bit. Graham doesn’t have the speed or agility he used to and likely won’t be much of a threat in the passing game unless in the red zone. There is a realistic chance his stat lines could look like this most weeks: 3 catches for 15 yards and 1 touchdown. While the touchdowns are great and will shoot him up the tight ends ranks, don’t expect much else from him.
Equanimeous St. Brown (WR) has a lot of talent but needs to improve and grow. He could become a viable fantasy option next year. Marquez Valdes-Scantling (WR) has played better than most of the other rookies in the preseason, and he could be someone who gets some work this year.
Impact 2019 Free Agents:
Wide Receiver- Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison. If Cobb isn’t traded during the year, I don’t expect him to be resigned, thereby allowing for the younger guys to be more prominently next season. Allison is a restricted free agent next season, but I expect him to be gone as well unless he has a good year this year.
Running Back-Ty Montgomery. I think there is a realistic chance Montgomery stays with the Packers. If he does it limits the upside of the other two, if he leaves both Jones and Willaims will get a nice uptick in touches.
5. Atlanta Falcons
Offensive line rank per PFF- 3
Quarterback rank- 17
Offensive weapons rank- 9
2017 was a season in which many thought the Falcons were in for a huge regression, as Steve Sarkisian took over play-calling duties for the beautiful offensive mind of Kyle Shanahan. However, Atlanta’s offense wasn’t nearly as bad as feared. While Matt Ryan took a step back he did so as well in Shanahan’s first year as a play caller. The Falcons’ offense was still churning at near-elite levels last season. Only New England averaged more yards per drive than Atlanta, only six teams scored more points per possession, and the Falcons finished second behind only the Saints in passing success rate on first and second downs. So why the struggle to produce like the year before? The answer comes from what the Falcons did in the red zone, Atlanta finished only 20th in total touchdowns in the red zone. After scoring 39 red-zone TDs in the 2016 regular season, Atlanta scored just 27 in 2017.
2018 will likely be a big year for Matt Ryan and this Atlanta offense. His first year in Kyle Shanahan’s offense Ryan struggled to produce, compared to what he had done in his career. However, in his second year, he won the MVP and took the Falcons to the Super Bowl. This is now Sarkisian’s second full year calling the offensive plays. So the likely assumption to make would be that Ryan and this offense is due for some positive regression. The Falcons haven’t made any changes to their offense besides adding a weapon in rookie Calvin Ridley: I would expect another year like 2016.
Quarterbacks: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub
As detailed above, Ryan had a somewhat down year last year. I firmly believe he is going to produce at an elite level again. With some possible changes coming to this offense next year, this is the Falcons best shot and Ryan will likely want to deliver on it.
Running backs: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Ito Smith
Freeman will again be the lead back in this backfield and will look to continue his run as a top running back option. While he didn’t rush for 1,000 yards last year he did eclipse that mark in total yards. Freeman will continue to split time with Coleman so it limits his upside some. Coleman has looked good in the preseason and been running extremely well. Last year was by far his best year as a rusher, though he regressed some in the passing game. Coleman will continue to steal work from Freeman and will be the guy if Freeman is out with an injury. Even more interesting with Coleman is that he will be a free agent next year, and with the contract Freeman has, it’s unlikely he gets re-signed. Coleman is someone to trade for now as he could be the lead back somewhere next year.
Smith is Coleman’s likely replacement. He was a good back in college both rushing and receiving. While he is a bit undersized compared to Coleman, Smith has more upside in the receiving game, and will likely take a bulk of that work once Coleman is gone.
Wide receivers: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Justin Hardy, Marvin Hall, Russell Gage
Julio had another great year. While amassing another 1,400 yards for his fourth straight year, he was only able to score three touchdowns. I envision Julio having another good year this year, not least of why being that he’ll be playing for a new contract. Sanu is a good number two receiver and is the perfect fit opposite Jones. Last year was one of Sanu’s best years. The Falcons have now added a dynamic weapon in Calvin Ridley which should also help free up Sanu at times.
Ridley is poised to have a good year. He comes in already a great route runner and now has two established weapons around him. While he will likely get some attention at times, he hasn’t proven anything yet and will likely be in the slot (getting most teams’ third cornerback). If Julio is doubled and Sanu is covered look for Ridley to get a lot of work in this offense.
Tight ends: Austin Hooper, Logan Paulsen, Eric Saubert
Hooper is the guy here and I think he’s in line for a breakout year. While he had a decent year last year it wasn’t anything special (he finished 18th at tight end). The Falcons should be better in the red zone this year and I think a benefactor of that will be Hooper, as he scores more he will continue to rise up the tight ends ranks.
Calvin Ridley (WR) should breakout this year, but if he doesn’t get ready for 2019. Austin Hooper (TE) is being drafted as the 23rd tight end in most drafts. In this offense, he has a chance to be a top 12-15 option.
Impact 2019 Free Agents:
Running Back- Tevin Coleman. He will be a free agent after this year and likely won’t be re-signed due to Freeman’s contract. Coleman could become a lead back next year whereever he lands.
4. New Orleans Saints
Offensive line rank per PFF- 6
Quarterback rank- 9
Offensive weapons rank- 4
Still reeling from their brutal, last-second defeat in Minnesota with a trip to the NFC Championship on the line, the Saints enter the crowded NFC South as the class of the division in 2018. Going into his age-39 season, Drew Brees is coming off another elite campaign as the Saints much-improved pass defense finally allowed them to have the balance on offense and threaten for a Super Bowl run. The Saints seemed to have changed their approach last season. New Orleans’ commitment to the run came down not only to Brees’ efficiency, but an improved defense, strong offensive line, and a fantastic RB duo headlined by rookie Alvin Kamara.
2018 should be another stellar offensive year for the Saints as they try for another Super Bowl run. Built now around defense and the running game, they also have one of the league’s best quarterbacks and wide receivers to keep teams honest. While Brees threw less last year due to his running backs I do believe they will throw more in 2018. Opposing defenses will try and key on the run and make Brees beat them, which may not be solid strategy either. While I do believe Kamara will regress some, the Saints have top fantasy players at three positions and will be a top-five offense once again.
Quarterbacks: Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill
Bress still finished in the top 12 of his position even with the reduced passing attempts. I do think the Saints will pass more in 2018, and Bress should move back up into the top 6 were he usually resides for fantasy. Bridgewater is an interesting case in New Orleans. He gives the Saints a good backup plan if something were to happen to Brees. However, he is a free agent after this year so will he stick around in New Orleans? If Brees is going to retire in the next couple years it will be interesting to see if Teddy is the future for New Orleans and Sean Payton.
Running backs: Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Mike Gilislee, Boston Scott
Kamara finished as the 4th best running back while not even getting a full workload until week 5. He will now be the lead back for at least four games. While I do think Kamara will have another great year, I think he’ll drop out of the top 5. His touchdown rate last year was astronomical and Ingram will get some work when he comes back. Ingram has looked good in the preseason and while he will have to sit for four games, I do think when he comes back he will be put back into the fold. Payton has run a two-back offense most of his career and I don’t see that changing. However, I do think Ingram is going to take a backseat to Kamara this season.
I think Gillisle might get cut once Ingram comes back, as he signed a one year deal after cut down day. If he isn’t he will likely only be used is short yardage or goalline situations, but I don’t see him scoring that many touchdowns with the other players on the roster.
Wide receivers: Michael Thomas, Cameron Meredith, Ted Ginn Jr., Tre’Quan Smith, Austin Carr
Thomas is one of the most overlooked elite wide receivers in the league. Thomas has the most receptions in the league since 2015, beating out guys like Jarvis Landry, Antonio Brown, and Larry Fitzgerald. Those targets aren’t going to dissipate anytime soon. While Meredith is a skilled receiver, no one is a threat to Thomas and the connection he has with Brees. Thomas has a chance to be the number one receiver overall this year.
Meredith came over from the Bears this offseason after sitting out all of 2017 with a serious knee injury. While he hasn’t been quite as explosive as he was before the injury, the Saints are still impressed with what Meredith has shown in camp. He will likely be their slot guy and if he can come back to even 90% of what he was he should be a big producer for this offense and for fantasy.
Ginn is the best deep ball threat they have. For fantasy, if you’re in a best ball league he’s someone you don’t have to worry about as everytime he blows up he’ll be in your lineup. In regular leagues, it will be hard to predict what weeks to get him in, but if you guess right he could be a weekly winner. Smith has been a sleeper for many this year. If he does get moved into the starting lineup, there is a very realistic chance he doesn’t give his spot up.
Tight ends: Josh Hill, Benjamin Watson
Hill has been a sleeper ever since Jimmy Graham left. Many have hoped he would produce they way Graham did, yet he has failed to deliver thus far. While I don’t seem him delivering again this year he is still a name to watch.
Watson is the old man on the block here with Brees. He suffered an injury last year that kept him out and he came over to the Saints this offseason. Much like the other tight ends he likely won’t produce much in the middle of the field but could be the best red zone target they have after Michael Thomas.
Tre’Quan Smith (WR) is likely owned in all dynasty formats. He has a chance to break out this year, but I think that will likely be in 2019.
Impact 2019 Free Agents:
Quarterback- Teddy Bridgewater. He could be the heir apparent to Brees if he stays after this year.
Running back- Mark Ingram. He’s a talented back but will be 29; chances are he leaves in offseason.
Tight End- Josh Hill and Benjamin Watson. Hill’s not overly talented and likely gone after his year, and Watson is looking at retirement.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
Offensive line rank per PFF- 4
Quarterback rank- 24
Offensive weapons rank- 3
The Steelers are coming off their best regular season since their 15-1 2004, with a rookie Ben Roethlisberger. However, that great regular season will likely be forgotten with the way they were dismantled by the Jaguars. The Steelers continued to shine for fantasy last season. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell remained at or near the top of their respective positions. Roethlisberger also remained one of the game’s better QBs in his age-35 season, and he helped JuJu Smith-Schuster become the team’s #2 WR as a rookie.
2018 will likely yield close to the same results for this offense. While the home and road splits for Big Ben are a little concerning, Big Ben, Brown, and Juju will all still be top options for fantasy. Le’Veon Bell continues his holdout, and this is starting to get concerning. James Conner could get some serious work to start the season. Even without Bell, as long as Brown and Big Ben stay healthy this offense will be near the top.
Quarterbacks: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Joshua Dobbs
Big Ben will likely go down as the best QB in Steelers history. He has struggled on the road for the past few years, which has lead to most fantasy owners benching when he is on the road. Ben has been flirting with retirement the past few years but seemed to change his tune when Rudolph was drafted this year. While Ben likely has at least three more years in him, Rudolph is the future here. Mason Rudolph is the QB for Pittsburgh’s future, but he will likely sit for at least two years.
Running backs: Le’Veon Bell, James Conner, Jaylen Samuels
Bell up until this year looked to be the franchise back for Pittsburgh, but now it seems this year may be his last with this team. Bell scares me some as the season starts Sunday and as of this article he still hasn’t reported. As long as he doesn’t get injured he will likely still finish in the top five, but he did struggle last year in his first four-games after sitting. If Bell leaves Pittsburgh, he will still be a stud but his possible workload this year does scare me for his future.
Conner is an interesting prospect for me. While I don’t think he can carry a full workload of an offense, if he is paired with rookie Samuels they could be quite the interesting duo. Conner could have some decent value this year as well, as I think he is going to get a lot of early season work with Bell still sitting out. Samuels is an intriguing prospect for this offense. He can play running back and wide receiver, so he could be a dynamic piece in the receiving game, he is already getting some work in the receiving game and could be a good satellite back for this offense, both this year and going forward.
Wide receivers: Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Ryan Switzer, Justin Hunter, Darrius Heyward-Bay
Brown might be the best wide receiver to have ever played the game when it’s all said and one. There are no worries or issues with Brown, even if Ben is out. Brown is 29 years old and is getting close to being out of his prime. While he likely has probably three years left, let’s watch him closely the next few years.
JuJu became a star last year as he showed up with authority in his rookie season. He started the season as the team’s third option and quickly shot up the depth chart. While he has continued to polish his game he is the secured second option for Ben and could see more looks with Bell out. He also has shown he can be the guy and could be the future number one when Brown leaves.
Washington has had some amazing catches in the preseason this year. He is easily the third wide receiver on their depth chart and will likely be in the slot. Washington, while he has immense talent, will likely be the fourth target behind Bell, Brown, and Schuster. Yet Ben will find him enough to make him relevant in a fair amount of games. If either Brown or Schuster gets hurt he will get a huge uptick and is the likely future two behind Schuster.
Tight ends: Vance McDonald, Jesse James
James has been with Pittsburgh for four years and has yet to have a full breakout year or be relevant at tight end. After Pittsburgh traded for McDonald last year I think his value is even lower.
McDonald could be the one to change the past of tight end relevancy in Pittsburgh. While injuries have slowed him down some and he is dealing with another foot injury this preseason, he seemed to have good chemistry with Big Ben and beat out James last year in just nine games. McDonald is someone to watch here, as this is a high-powered offense and good tight ends are hard to find.
James Conners (RB) has some value this year with Bell likely getting less work and has the chance to be the future back of this offense. Jaylen Samuels (RB) is already being worked into the gameplan, especially in the receiving game. Has a chance to be well-paired with Conners as the future to this running game.
James Washington (WR) is someone with limited value this year but who will likely pair well with JuJu as the future of this wide receiving corps.
Impact 2019 Free Agents:
Running Back- Le’Veon Bell. There’s a better chance than not he’s gone after this year but still has the talent to be a stud wherever he goes.
Tight End- Jesse James. Not a huge blow to this offense either way if he does leave.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
Offensive line rank per PFF- 18
Quarterback rank- 15
Offensive weapons rank- 1
The Alex Smith-Andy Reid tenure had a very fitting end after five seasons. The Chiefs had another successful regular season followed by yet another early exit in the postseason. Smith finished as the league’s top-rated passer, rookie RB Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing, and Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce formed the league’s most prolific WR-TE combo. Despite an outstanding regular season, the end result in the playoffs was yet another one-and-done loss, the third time in five seasons with Smith leading the team. This likely sped up the organization’s decision to turn to Patrick Mahomes as their franchise QB beginning in 2018. The most notable move the Chiefs made this off-season was their trade of Smith to the Redskins for CB Kendall Fuller and a third-round pick, paving the way for Mahomes. He brings a much different skill set to the table compared to Smith. To accommodate their new big-armed QB, the Chiefs signed free-agent WR Sammy Watkins.
2018 looks like it could go one of two ways for the Chiefs. Mahomes could be exactly what Andy Reid expects him to be and they throw all over most teams get to the playoffs and advance a round. Or the team falters as Mahomes struggles and they fail to make the playoffs. While the likely scenario is they fall somewhere in between, Mahomes is going to be the biggest factor for this offense. He has all the weapons around him to be set and his skill set lineups up with them. This should be one of the most explosive and fun offenses to watch this year.
Quarterbacks: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, Matt McGloin
Mahomes is the guy and the new franchise quarterback for the Chiefs. His best asset is his cannon for an arm, which should be interesting to watch when he connects with Tyreek Hill. Mahomes will likely still have some struggles this year as he has only played one full game. Regardless, he has a chance to be one of the better quarterbacks in the league for the next decade.
Running backs: Kareem Hunt, Spencer Ware, Damien Williams
Hunt came in last year and lead the league in rushing in his rookie campaign. One would wonder how much better he would have been had he been used more often instead of getting zero work for entire quarters last year. While Reid has come out and said they are going to use Hunt more this year, he will likely regress some, at least until teams can prove Mahomes can beat them. Hunt, if healthy, will continue to be a top running back for years to come.
Ware was the starter last year until he tore his ACL in the preseason. Andy Reid still seems to have some love for him as he has kept him around and said he will be used in some passing downs. This likely doesn’t hurt Hunt much as he got most of his work rushing the ball anyways. While Ware could eat into some of his work it won’t be enough to give him fantasy value or hurt Hunt’s.
Wide receivers: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, Chris Conley, De’Anthony Thomas
Hill is one of the wide receivers I’m most excited for this year. Having a quarterback who routinely throws the ball deep could help increase his value, even though he finished in the top-12 last year at wide receiver. His speed and hands, paired with Mahomes, should lead him to be closer to six this year than twelve in fantasy.
Watkins is an interesting case for me this year. When he has been healthy he has been a good wide receiver. He is now not only playing in the best offense he’s been in but also playing with his best quarterback. One of the problems I see here with Watkins is Andy Reid’s offenses have usually only produced one stud wide receiver. Hill is the better and more skilled player which is why I lean toward him. While Watkins will likely have some success and could be more of a red-zone target than ever before, he is likely going to finish as a low-end WR2 high-end WR3.
Robinson has been a fantasy sleeper for a couple years now and while he likely won’t be much this year he is still someone to watch. He finally got into some games last year and played decently. He will be the third guy on the depth chart here and so will get some run if Watkins or Hill are out.
Tight ends: Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris
Kelce is an absolute stud and has been a top tight end the past few years. I feel like Kelce will likely take a step back this year with the way Mahomes plays (i.e. deeper down the field). That being said, Mahomes did target Kelce the second most on the team in the preseason so let’s hope he keeps that up.
DeMarcus Robinson (WR) could have a big year if Watkins or Hill are out.
Impact 2019 Free Agents:
Running Back- Spencer Ware. If he is let go it should increase Hunt’s workload and I don’t see Ware having much of a role elsewhere.
1. Philadelphia Eagles
Offensive line ranking per PFF- 1
Quarterback rank- 2
Offensive weapons rank- 14
The Eagles looked like a Super Bowl favorite until Carson Wentz ended his MVP-worthy season with a blown-out knee in Week 14. The Eagles got two bad starts from backup QB Nick Foles to end the season. He played just well enough to get by the Falcons and then had eight great quarters to help the Eagles lift the Lombardi. Head coach Doug Pederson, OC Frank Reich, and QB coach John DeFilippo turned in the best coaching job in the NFL, culminating in Foles’ Super Bowl MVP performance in a win over the Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
2018 for the Eagles is going to come down to a couple of key things: Wentz’s recovery from his injury and how Philadelphia rebounds from losing both Reich and DeFilippo. They haven’t lost many pieces on offense and get their offensive line back healthy, and if Wentz can come back healthy he could go on another MVP like run and try and win a SuperBowl MVP for himself.
Quarterbacks: Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld
Wentz was an MVP candidate last year and I expect him to eventually return to form The Eagles have a good chance to win the division again and make the playoffs; while it’s extremely hard to repeat, this team has a chance as long as Wentz is under center. Foles will likely play at least two or three weeks, and all he has to do is keep the team afloat. He will also likely be gone at the end of the year. Sudfeld looked extremely good in the preseason and will likely be Wentz’s backup next year.
Running backs: Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles, Josh Adams
Ajayi was a top fantasy option in Miami before being traded to Philly midseason last year. While it’s tough to come in and learn a new offense midseason, Ajayi had some good games. He also had some really bad games. Ajayi worries me a lot- his work ethic has been called into question and the health of his knee has been brought up a lot as well. While I think he has a good year this year he will be a free agent and it will be interesting if he misses time due to his knee Injury.
Clement is secure in the receiving game and will likely get some carries to spell Ajayi. Further, if Ajayi struggles I could see Clement’s role increasing as well. Clement will be with the Eagles next year no matter what and is the guy here to own long-term.
Josh Adams is one of my deep sleepers and I think he will be the lead back here in a year or so. While he hasn’t landed on their practice squad yet, the organization really hopes that no one else grabs him. Adams was in Heisman talks last year until he hurt his ankle and is only 21. If given a year to get healthy and learn an offense he could be a very interesting player in 2019.
Wide receivers: Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Alshon Jeffery, Mike Wallace, Shelton Gibson
Agholor was underrated in the regular season last year. While targeted 25 fewer times than Jeffery, he was only outscored by Jeffrey by 1.5 points. Agholor thrives in the slot and will likely play more there this season. Once Wentz comes back I think Agholor will move into being the number one threat on this offense.
Jeffrey will likely be out for at least the first three games this year. While I don’t think he does much for fantasy this year anyway, he did sign a new contract and will be a staple of this offense moving forward. Jeffrey finished as a top 20 wide receiver last year, with Agholor stepping up I think Jeffrey falls back a little into the low-20s. Wallace will likely be the deep threat for this offense and will have some really good weeks. He is better in best ball formats but will be worth playing while Jeffrey is out.
Gibson is a sleeper on this team and someone I talked about a lot on my podcast, the Fantasy Football Roundtable. Gibson will likely be more of a special teams player this year but with his speed and ability, I think he will move up the depth chart quickly and will be someone to watch late this year.
Tight ends: Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert
Ertz was the number one tight end last year and for most of the offseason, I thought he would return that same value again in 2018. The drafting of Goedert worries me a bit for him. While Ertz will still be targeted a lot in between the 20s, Goedert got a lot of looks in the red zone during the preseason which I think will happen in the regular season as well. Ertz will still be a top option for the near future but we need to watch Goedert closely.
Goedert was labeled as the next Gronk in the draft and has all the talent in the world. Learning in a high-powered offense and behind a stud like Ertz should help him develop quickly. While he was getting red zone looks in the preseason that will likely continue to happen in the regular season. While I’m not sure he has much value this year he could be a legitimate stud for the years to come.
Shelton Gibson (WR) has insane speed and great hands. Josh Adams (RB) has a chance to be the future star running back of this offense. Dallas Goedert (TE) is extremely talented but blocked right now by Ertz. He could have a breakout year next year.
Impact 2019 Free Agents:
Wide Receiver- Mike Wallace. While it won’t be a huge loss, it could help get Gibson on the field sooner.
Running Back- Darren Sproles and Jay Ajayi. Sproles is retiring after this year which will solidify Clements role in the offense. If Adams lands on the practice squad and produces the way I think he can, Ajayi will likely be gone next year. He could have some value depending on where he lands.