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By Jerry Bo
Football is back! So it’s time to get in general manager mode because fantasy football drafts are upon us. Start digging up the sleepers and let the mock drafts begin. Here are a few things to get you ready for your championship run. “Are you ready for some fantasy football?”
*FFCALC = Fantasy Football Calculator
RB Leonard Fournette-Jacksonville Jaguars (6’0 /228) RB#17 (FFCALC)
In 2016, the Jaguars were 4th in passing attempts (626). Many would say it was because of game script or because they were always trailing, but the reality is the Jaguars had a middle tier defense ranked 13th in Football Outsiders DVOA. Last year, Jacksonville trailed by more than 1 score in the majority of only 3 games. That doesn’t explain the upsurge in pass attempts that led to Blake Bortles throwing 23 touchdowns to 16 interceptions in 2016. A team that tied for 2nd to last in rushing TDs and ranked in the bottom 10 in rush yards (1631) and yards per carry (4.2). Enter Leonard Fournette. Fournette ran an impressive 4.51 forty, the fastest ever by a player weighing over 240 lbs. Fournette is LSU’s all-time leader in yards per carry (6.2) but has been known to struggle in the passing game. He was a very inconsistent pass blocker at LSU and dropped 8 of 48 catchable targets (PFF). Having to compete with Chris Ivory and TJ Yeldon for carries gives him one of the best paths for rookie RBs this year. Look for Leonard Fournette to make a big impact. Jacksonville plays the 8th softest strength of schedule (SOS) vs RBs this year and 2nd overall.
WR Corey Davis- Tennessee Titans (6’3/209) WR#44 (FFCALC)
We are only in August and Corey Davis is already living up to the hype. Running with the first team offense as the X receiver, it seems like Davis is a lock to enter the year as the Titans WR1. Playing on a team that ranked 28th in pass attempts and heavily favoring the run ranking 4th in rush attempts, the targets will be something to monitor and may cap his ceiling. Tennessee threw 504 passes last year the 5th lowest in the league with R. Matthews leading the way with 108 targets. Add in the fact the TE Delanie Walker eats up 100+ targets yearly, 102 of those coming in 2016 which is his lowest mark in 3 years. The Titans also added Eric Decker in the offseason, a veteran WR that before last year’s injury had topped 100+ targets 4 straight years. With the 20th ranked SOS against the WR position but only 4th vs the run, look for the Titans to lean on the ground game and spread the targets around, giving merit to his ranking at WR#44 (FFCALC) A few spots later than teammate Eric Decker.
RB- Christian McCaffrey- Carolina Panthers (5’11/205) RB#25 (FFCLAC)
Things are quickly changing in Carolina, “There’s not going to be anybody in this league that can cover him 1-on-1,” teammate Jonathan Stewart said after practice. Multiple reports out of camp are that the Panthers are trying different ways to get him the ball. In the Cam Newton era, no team has fewer RB targets than Carolina. Look for the Panthers to figure out ways to get McCaffrey the ball in open space, but keep in mind that In Newton’s career no RB has eclipsed 30+ receptions. With Jonathan Stewart most likely to command short yardage situations, I think McCaffrey is hard to predict. The Panthers face the easiest SOS vs the run in 2017, so if McCaffrey gets a shot, he may run away with the job.
RB- Dalvin Cook- Minnesota Vikings (5’10/210) RB# 23 (FFCALC)
The Minnesota Vikings knew exactly what they wanted to do during the draft when they traded the Bengals their 4th round pick and drafted Dalvin Cook at 41st overall. This was sort of confusing seeing that the Vikings had acquired Latavius Murray in March on a three-year, $15 million contract. While that decision is in question, only 1.2 million would be owed after this season essentially making it a 1-year deal. The Vikings completely rebuilt the offensive line and might feature 4 new starting offensive linemen. Big changes were needed for a line that ranked 31st in DVOA (PFF) and in a backfield where RBs averaged 3.2 yards per carry. The Vikings ranked 1st and 7th in rush attempts over the past two years and look for that to continue. ‘This guy gets it,'” Coach Zimmer said. “They see him out there on the field with the other guys, and it’s like, there’s something different about this guy, the way he runs, accelerates, the creases he can get to.’” For a team that has been accustomed to having Adrian Peterson in the backfield, he is receiving extremely high praise. Look for Cook to run all over U.S. Bank Stadium for years to come.
RB-Joe Mixon-Cincinnati Bengals- (6’1/228) RB#16 (FFCALC)
The Bengals gambled and took a huge chance during the second round of the NFL Draft. Chance, is the keyword and that’s what Mixon needed. It’s worth noting that he did show up to rookie camp over overweight at 238 lbs, pretty heavy for a guy that was 226 at Oklahoma. He did join fellow Oklahoma Sooner Adrian Peterson during the summer for workouts which can only help the rookie RB. The Bengals play the 13th ranked SOS vs the position and 17th overall. He is currently being drafted at RB#16 around players like Ty Montgomery and Spencer Ware. Look for Mixon to get plenty of scoring opportunities on a Bengals team that has ranked in the top 10 in rush attempts while in the red zone the last three seasons. Mixon is in line receive a major role in the Bengals offense, but will be on a short leash on and off the field.
QB- Deshaun Watson-Houston Texans QB#22- Preseason camp battle? More like an audition. Look for him to take over as soon as the coaching staff feels he is comfortable. Can the Quarterback whisperer O’Brien strike gold ?
WR-Mike Williams-Los Angeles Chargers WR#16 – He’s dropped in all ADP’s due to injury concerns. Joining a wide receiver core that’s loaded with talent, missing training camp only puts him that much behind on the depth chart.
RB- Samaje Perine- Washington Redskins RB#35 – He’s in a preseason battle for the featured back position with Rob Kelly. Reports so far are saying he is struggling with fumbles and pass protection. It’s looking like Rob Kelley will be starting week 1 making Perine a deeper pick in drafts.
In with the new, out with the old? Not so fast, 5 years ago these players were top 10 fantasy running backs. Is it ironic that all three of them have relocated this year? Let’s look a little further at these veterans that have potential, but must be drafted with caution.
RB-Adrian Peterson- New Orleans Saints- 32 years old- RB#22 (FFCALC) SOS vs RB Position:15
Doubt him? Never again. But trust him? Can we? That’s a difficult task for a 32-year-old running back coming off his second knee surgery. Changing complete scripts, Peterson goes from 10 years as a pro in a run heavy offense to one of the NFL’s most prolific passing offenses. Not to mention, he is in a backfield that is already occupied by Mark Ingram, who is coming off his best season setting career highs in rush yards (1,043), yards per carry (5.07), yards from scrimmage (1,362) and all-purpose touchdowns with 10, making him the 2016 RB#8 (PPR). The Saints offense plays at a high pace ranking #1 in volume in 2016, and they had a leaky defense that underwhelmed and basically welcomed high scoring opponents all year long. It’s fair to worry about the amount of time Peterson is on the field this year due to his catching ability. Peterson has been focusing on just that and says he wants to surpass the 500-yard mark in receiving this season. Peterson’s highest total of 436 yards came in 2009 with Brett Farve. To remain on the field, he must be an asset to the passing game due to the game script. Can we get back the Adrian Peterson that returned in nine months from torn ACL surgery and rushed for 2.097 in 2012? While we aren’t expecting anything super natural like he has shown in his prime, the reception goal seems feasible.
RB-Marshawn Lynch-Oakland Raiders- 31 years old-RB#12 (FFCALC) SOS vs RB Position:17
After sitting out a year in retirement “Beast Mode” is back. Better yet, back and playing for his hometown Oakland. Fantasy dreamers seem to be praying to the Skittles Gods that Beast Mode will return to his prime, where he averaged 12 touchdowns on 1,300 yards on 300 attempts for 3 consecutive years. With his truck stick type of running style his body had to endure, it finally caught up to him when multiple nagging injuries caused him to have surgery and miss the final part of 2015. When Lynch did return, it was a nightmare. In his last 111 rush attempts he averaged 3.7 yards per carry. Now, he returns to play with an offensive line that ranks in the top 5 in DVOA (PFF) and led the way for Latavius Murray to score 12 touchdowns in 2016. If Beast Mode can stay healthy, he will have plenty of looks for touchdowns, therefore, inflating his final fantasy points output.
RB-Jamaal Charles-Denver Broncos-30 years old- RB#41 (FFCALC) SOS vs RB Position:11
8…. The total number of games Charles has played in the last 2 years. Although the former Longhorn running back says he has “zero” pain, the Broncos are still proceeding with extreme caution. It’s being reported from Broncos training camp that the team would like to see Charles ideally touch the ball 8-10 times. Even though he has been extremely efficient with his touches in his career, he will need a few more than this to be fantasy relevant. We all know Charles and what he can do when healthy, but being healthy and available for the majority of the season, that’s another story. He’ll compete with CJ Anderson for touches and snaps, but keep an eye out for the Charles of old. The player that ran for 6,856 yards and 38 touchdowns before tearing his ACL. “One man’s trash could turn into another’s treasure.”
RB-Mike Gillislee-New England Patriots- (5’11/219) RB#20 (FFCALC)
In 2016, the Patriots primarily trusted 2 running backs. LeGarrette Blount for short yardage and runs between the tackles and James White in passing downs and in the flats. In his time with New England, Blount was virtually a non-factor in the passing game recording only 19 receptions in 49 games. With the limited capabilities of both running backs, Coach Belichick said the offense was getting “too predictable” so they also added Rex Burkhead who is considered an all-purpose back. Blount thrived in short goal line situations and its expected for Gillislee to do the same. Last year in Buffalo the 5th round pick out of Florida, rushed 101 times and had 9 all-purpose touchdowns, 7 of those scores came inside the 10-yard line where he had 11 touches. Last year, the Patriots had the most rush attempts (482) since 2012. Gillislee led the NFL with 5.7 yards per carry, something that bodes well for a RB that went 6-6 on touches inside the 5-yard line converting those chances into scores. The Patriots also return all 5 starting offensive lineman, so look for the Patriots backfield to have a big impact in 2017 as they face the second easiest schedule vs the RB position.
WR-Tyrell Williams-Los Angeles Chargers- (6’4/205) WR#42 (FFCALC)
Keenan Allen went out for the season week 1 with a torn ACL and Williams stepped up in a big way. Leading the team in targets (120), catches (69), receiving yards(1,059) and played 84% of the offensive snaps. The speedy 4.43 WR went on to finish as the WR#18 (PPR). We do know that with the return of Keenan Allen, Williams targets will be down from last year’s career high. “It won’t change much for me,” Williams said. “Really, he opens up a lot for me,” Williams told reporters in camp. With the timetable of rookie Mike Williams in question, Williams presents tremendous upside. The big- play WR could see even more opportunity if Allen can’t stay healthy, something he failed to do so the past 2 years missing 23 of his last 32. The Chargers face the 2nd toughest SOS vs the WR position, so look for Rivers to be cautious and spread the ball around to avoid throwing into the opposing team’s best defensive backs.
QB- Marcus Mariota- Tennessee Titans- (6’4/222) QB#12 (FFCALC)
In 2016, Marcus Mariota had 4 games where he had 35+ fantasy points. While that makes him a viable option for a late round quarterback, after week 13 Mariota did not break double digit fantasy points the rest of the way. In the offseason, the Titans added receiving weapons to an offense that was 28th in pass attempts and relied on the heavy ground game ranking 4th in rush attempts. The additions of standout rookie WR Corey Davis and veteran WR Eric Decker give the former Oregon quarterback multiple options to go alongside target vulture TE Delanie Walker. Mariota was on pace to finish as a Top 12 QB before breaking his leg last year. Mariota threw for 3,426 yards and ran for an additional 349 on the ground totaling 28 total scores. Look for those numbers to go up and land Mariota in the top 10. From weeks 5 to 12, Mariota only trailed Aaron Rodgers in QB points making him an intriguing option at QB late in drafts. The Titans have been urging Mariota to gain some weight and ideally be at 225-230 lbs for training camp. The 2nd year QB has instead gone in the opposite direction and used a training regimen that will help him be lighter and more elusive.
TE- Martellus Bennett- Green Bay Packers- (6’6/275) TE#7 (FFCALC)
Focusing on details is the primary focus of the former 2008 2nd round pick, and communication with “That bad man Rodgers” is where it begins. Flashback to 2009 and 2011, where Rodgers led Jermichael Finley to TE#1 finishes. The veteran tight end has played in all 16 games in 4 of his last 5 seasons, so durability is not in question. In 2016, Bennett had 701 yards on his way to seven scores on 73 looks. For this season, I have Bennett getting closer to 100 targets and double digit touchdowns putting him in the top 5 tight ends. Rodgers went to his TE Jared cook often in last year’s playoffs targeting him 32 times. If that’s a taste of things to come, 2017 will be a big year for the former Aggie.
WR-Willie Snead- New Orleans Saints- (5’11/195) WR#31 (FFCALC)
In one of the biggest splashes of the offseason, big play wide receiver Brandin Cooks was traded to the Patriots. With Cooks gone, the Saints are missing 150 targets from 2016, opening the door for a few more receptions. In his rookie campaign, Snead had 102 targets, 69 catches 984 yards and 3 touchdowns. Last year, he followed it up with very similar stat line 102/72/895/4 showing consistency. He averages a healthy 13.2 yards per catch and hopes to build on that. The Saints did bring in deep ball flyer, Ted Ginn, to give them speed on the outside, leaving more slot work for Snead. In 2015, Snead finished as the WR# 32 (PPR) and in 2016 WR#30 (PPR). In 2017, the Saints also face the 3rd softest SOS vs slot receivers. I fully expect Snead to outperform his preseason ADP of WR#31 and end up somewhere in the Top 20 WRs in PPR scoring.
A very common mistake fantasy drafters make when selecting their team is drafting for team needs instead of drafting the best player available. Drafting a Quarterback extremely early is a mistake you see most often. Shown in the graph you can see the differential in points scored by each position. The difference in points being scored by the top starter of that category, and the last starter. As you can see, tight ends and quarterbacks carry the least amount of gap between the top and bottom scorers, therefore giving you the option to hold off on these positions and capitalize in other categories. The difference in scoring in these positions are -3.1 (TE), -6.3 (QB), -9.0 (WR) and -13.5 (RB).
Take the best players available and don’t press for a QB. You can get quality quarterbacks in the later rounds. Whether you’re the flashy fantasy player that shows up with your first round pick’s “unauthorized” jersey, or the guy that’s in the league just because he forgot to get the cute girls name from last year’s draft party, cheers, the most wonderful time of the year is here.