It’s the offseason, but fantasy football never sleeps. As free agency starts and rosters get reshaped, the savvy fantasy player has a lot of reasons to pay attention.
John Tuvey, director of content with SportsHub Technologies, has long been one of the best in the business. He shared his weekly rankings with you here during the 2016 season and he’s agreed to share his thoughts on developments of interest to the fantasy crowd in the time since the Super Bowl ended.
Zoneblitz: Last year, for the first time in my memory, WRs went with the top two or three picks in most drafts. Was that an anomaly or is that the new fantasy normal?
Tuvey: After the seasons that David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott had in 2016 I have to think they’ll be three of the first five players off the board—though with PPR becoming the scoring system of choice, a high-volume receiver like Antonio Brown will be in the mix as well.
As long as there are compelling backs touching the ball as frequently as Johnson, Bell and Elliott, they’ll remain atop the fantasy wish list. That list of sure things is dwindling, however, as committee backfields become the norm. In my mind that makes it even more vital to grab one if you can; it’s when you get to that next tier of less-certain backs that wideouts such as Brown, AJ Green, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. start looking like the smarter move.
Zoneblitz: What would you be looking at as your first round in a standard draft right now?
Tuvey: Johnson, Bell, Elliott and Brown are the top four. Then that group of elite wideouts — Julio, AJ, OBJ—and LeSean McCoy. The nine spot is the early candidate for the stinkhole; you could make a case for guys like Devonta Freeman, Mike Evans, Dez Bryant, TY Hilton, and Jordy Nelson—but you can just as easily poke holes in each case as well.
Zoneblitz: Who disappointed in 2016 that you see as possible comeback or breakout candidates in 2017?
Tuvey: Todd Gurley’s at the top of that list. You have to hope the Rams find a way to threaten in the passing game, or at least use Gurley in the passing game, to open up some running room for him. The signing of Andrew Whitworth doesn’t hurt. Keenan Allen disappointed only because he couldn’t stay healthy; if you guaranteed me 16 games from him this year I’d put him in my top five wideouts without hesitation.
Zoneblitz: Who was great in 2016 that you could see disappointing in 2017?
Tuvey: Anyone remember LeGarrette Blount’s run as a Steeler? I’d be extremely worried about him if, as expected, he leaves New England. The prospect of Derrick Henry taking carries from DeMarco Murray concerns me as well. And Jay Ajayi topped 80 yards just once over the last half of the season; he feels like he’ll be overvalued on draft day.
Zoneblitz: Ezekiel Elliott was a first or second round pick in most drafts last year and his on-field results justified that positioning – is there anyone coming in this year who could have that same kind of impact as a rookie?
Tuvey: Zeke struck a perfect storm of running behind a great line for an offense that wanted to limit its defense’s exposure to the field and ended up “protecting” a rookie quarterback. I don’t think his numbers would have been quite as gaudy with a healthy Tony Romo, just because the offense would have leaned more on Romo and the passing game than they did with Dak Prescott. Tough to see another such confluence this year. Leonard Fournette might be a top-10 fantasy running back in Carolina, but Cam Newton’s presence prevents him from being as elite as Elliott was. Dalvin Cook might be the most complete back in the draft, but where’s the perfect landing spot where he’ll get Zeke-level touches?
Zoneblitz: Conversely, long-time fantasy stars Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles have been dropped by the Vikings and Chiefs. Are their days as fantasy contributors over?
Tuvey: The best-case fantasy scenario for Peterson is him being forced to swallow his pride and take an incentive-laden deal to replace Blount in New England. The other fits—Tampa Bay, Denver, Oakland, Seattle — don’t offer as much fantasy upside, though if he does land in Oakland I could see AP putting up fantasy RB2 numbers. Charles could find a Darren Sproles/Danny Woodhead/Theo Riddick role somewhere, but his numbers will pale in comparison to what he was putting up in his fantasy heyday. Both these backs are on the wrong side of 30 and coming off injuries, plus they’re not likely to land on a team that will give them 20 touches a game. At present neither cracks my top-30 running backs, so that’s the most direct answer to your question.
Zoneblitz: A couple more big names out there are Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Marshall lands with the Giants while Jeffery is headed to Philly. Will those signings provide owners with fantasy glory?
Tuvey: Marshall lands on a team with no real running back threat that’s had success in the past throwing to mediocre tight ends; he can certainly carve out a role as a big-bodied red zone threat without horning in too much on OBJ’s turf. But he’s needed 150-plus targets to be a real fantasy standout, and I don’t think he sees that many running as the Giants’ WR2. So he’s maybe a fantasy WR2, more likely a high-end WR3.
Jeffery is coming off his worst season since becoming a regular—and that was with the PEDs? On the bright side he’s still just 27 and Carson Wentz is probably an upgrade at quarterback. I’d be cautiously optimistic, but again he’ll need 150-plus targets before I invest any draft day capital on a bounce back season — and that’s extremely difficult to envision in a Doug Pederson offense that threw 300 passes to backs and tight ends last year.
Zoneblitz: Sounds like Ricky Wagner is going to Detroit. What impact will that have on the Lions’ fantasy options?
Tuvey: I don’t know that Riley Reiff was the Lions’ biggest offensive problem, but Wagner should be an upgrade. If Ameer Abdullah stays healthy Detroit can be more balanced and that should help across the board. Wagner certainly doesn’t hurt, but I’m not pushing Lions up my rankings with his arrival in the Motor City.
Zoneblitz: You’re renowned as a guy who pays attention to the offensive line when ranking skill players. Who else out there would normally be marginal players who, because of great lines, might be productive fantasy players … or vice versa?
Tuvey: Whatever back—or maybe multiple backs—ends up carrying the load in Oakland (Vegas?) should enjoy success behind that offensive line. Could be AP, could be a rookie, could be Jalen Richard and/or DeAndre Washington. I’m definitely keeping an eye on that situation. Aside from that, we’ll have to see what shakes down in free agency and the draft as there are a couple lines one key cog away from being very interesting with regards to what they can bring to the fantasy table. For example, the domino effect from the Whitworth signing in Los Angeles – Greg Robinson to guard – should give Gurley a much better opportunity.
Zoneblitz: As free agency kicks off, what teams and individual linemen are you watching who could significantly impact
Tuvey: Obviously, the Vikings, for starters. I was disappointed they didn’t land Whitworth but happy they didn’t pay Matt Kalil what Carolina was offering. Reiff can plug a hole, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they added some veteran depth looking for a change of scenery — DJ Fluker’s name has been tossed around — before spending three or four draft picks on the line rebuild. Russell Okung, TJ Lang, and Kevin Zeitler all are capable of instantly upgrading a line and the skill position players behind it; San Diego (Okung) and Cleveland (Zeitler) apparently agree. And my candidate for an under-the-radar guy who could surprise is Stefen Wisniewski; he’s bounced around since having initial success in Oakland, and he’s young enough that he could still fill a big hole at either center or guard at a significantly discounted price.
Zoneblitz: DeSean Jackson will be going to Tampa. What will the impact be on him, Jameis Winston, Mike Evans and others? And are there any other moves you’ve seen so far that may have an impact?
Tuvey: I like the D-Jax signing in Tampa. The Bucs struggled to find a complementary target for Evans last year with Vincent Jackson injured, and in Jackson they have a deep threat who opens things up not just for Evans but also Cameron Brate and either Jacquizz Rodgers or whatever running back they draft (like the aforementioned Dalvin Cook). Winston isn’t shy about throwing deep, and the Bucs’ young line is improving to the point that he should have time to go long.
All these moves will have an impact in some way – what will Danny Woodhead’s role be in Baltimore? Will Kyle Shanahan load up Pierre Garçon with targets? What’s Dwayne Allen’s role in New England – but we need to let the Draft happen and the dust settle before reading the tea leaves. Unless you’re an MFL10’s addict there’s plenty of time for speculation before the drafts turn from mock to meaningful.
Follow John Tuvey on Twitter at: @jtuvey