The bulk of free agency is over with and the draft last weekend finished most of the player movement for the offseason.
So, it’s time to start thinking about fantasy football. We’ll be debating several individuals over the coming weeks, but here are some thoughts in aggregate from one of the nation’s top fantasy minds, John Tuvey, director of content with SportsHub Technologies.
(To read his previous Q and A from March, click here.)
Zoneblitz: What were the biggest fantasy football story lines you saw developing from the draft?
Tuvey: I had this pegged as a defensive draft, and yet the top 12 was littered with fantasy position players. That tells me that NFL teams like scoring points just as much as we fantasy owners do.
It was also interesting watching who DIDN’T draft skill position players as much as who did. The Redskins taking Samaje Perine suggests maybe they’re not as enamored with Rob Kelley as they’ve led us to believe. The Ravens didn’t take a running back or wide receiver, which tells me that they’re willing to go to battle with Danny Woodhead (and Kenny Dixon when he returns from his suspension), and that they believe Breshad Perriman can replace at least some of what they lost with Steve Smith’s retirement.
Zoneblitz: Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon and Christian McCaffrey were big name RBs who went in the first two rounds, each stepping into situations where they should play quickly. Where do you see them being fantasy drafted, if at all?
Tuvey: Fournette will be the first rookie off of most draft boards, unless they go with Corey Davis. It’s not a great situation in Jacksonville, but he’ll get the volume and they have enough other weapons — and have done some things to the offensive line — that he’s not a lost cause. I didn’t see McCaffrey as a fit in Carolina, but they seem willing to tweak their offense to take advantage of his skills. The alternative is a lame duck year from Jonathan Stewart, in more ways than one, and first-round draft capital dictates they’ll follow through on the plan to put McCaffrey to work.
Mixon should take over from Jeremy Hill (in the last year of his rookie contract) and the returning-from-injury Giovani Bernard, but there will be fantasy owners who simply take him off their draft board — and I don’t blame them. Cook might evoke some of the same sentiment but his situation seems to be a little different, plus there’s the mentality — right or wrong—in Minnesota that he’s “our guy” so that makes giving him the second chance a little easier. On-field I think Cook actually has a clearer path to fantasy success than Mixon, and he’s far enough removed from Florida that I’m reasonably optimistic he can leave that life behind. Put another way: I’d take Cook over Mixon in a dynasty league, and I’d probably trust him more in a redraft situation as well.
Zoneblitz: From that same group, what veteran teammates are hurt most by their new teammate’s presence?
Tuvey: Hill and Bernard have been top-25 fantasy backs every healthy year of their respective careers; if Mixon stays healthy and out of trouble, both Bengals will see their fantasy value drop. Stewart was always a risk so his value dip is hardly a shock. Nobody was buying the Jacksonville backs anyway so Fournette’s arrival doesn’t do significant damage. Those hoping for McKinnon to get a longer look will likely be disappointed as well.
Zoneblitz: This was a strong running back draft class – what other rookie RBs do you see stepping in to fantasy relevant roles?
Tuvey: I noted Perine earlier and I think he’s got the best opportunity to make a fantasy splash. Marlon Mack in Indy should also have an opportunity, though it seems like we’ve been writing Frank Gore off for 10 years and he’s proven us wrong every time so that might need to be a handcuff. Kareem Hunt could push Spencer Ware for touches in KC. My deep sleeper would be Joe Williams in San Francisco; word is that Kyle Shanahan made the team put him back on the board and took him in Round 4, and Carlos Hyde has hardly been a bastion of good health. Finally, it pains me to say it but if the Packers put Ty Montgomery back at wide receiver they could have a nice thunder-and-lightning combo in Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones, with the former as the goal line guy and the latter as the pass-catcher.
Zoneblitz: Are there rookies at any position that you like but who were drafted to teams that reduce their ability to contribute right away?
Tuvey: I was on board the Carlos Henderson hype train, but putting him in Denver with two studs in front of him and all kinds of quarterback questions is a definite buzzkill. Same with JuJu Smith-Schuster in Pittsburgh; that move tells me they don’t have much faith in Martavis Bryant staying out of trouble. D’Onta Foreman could have been an immediate impact back with a better path to touches, but playing behind Lamar Miller torpedoes his fantasy value as well. And there was a real opportunity for Taywan Taylor to be a rookie standout, but now he has to take a back seat to Corey Davis.
Zoneblitz: Are there any WRs or TEs you see being fantasy worthy pick-ups right out of the gate?
Tuvey: You don’t take a tight end in the first round if you’re not going to use him, so OJ Howard should splash in Tampa Bay (at the expense of one of my favorite underrated guys from last year, Cameron Brate) and David Njoku will give Cody Kessler a friendly target in the middle of the field. I’m a little less bullish on Evan Engram in part because he seems like a duplicate type of player as Brandon Marshall. I like Zay Jones in Buffalo; Sammy Watkins can’t stay healthy and there’s nothing else on that depth chart that will challenge for meaningful targets. And if they get competent quarterback play from Josh McCown, both ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen could push for fantasy relevancy behind Eric Decker and Quincy Enunwa.
Zoneblitz: What offensive lines have gotten better or worse enough to change the fantasy outlook for its skill players?
Tuvey: I absolutely love what the Chargers did. Not only did they get Philip Rivers another weapon in Mike Williams, they added two of my favorite linemen in this draft—Forest Lamp and Dan Feeney—to keep Rivers upright and open holes for Melvin Gordon. Those picks alone bumped Gordon up my rankings. No other team improved their line so dramatically, though both Buffalo (Dion Dawkins) and New England (Antonio Garcia) added important pieces that will help their respective backfields and Arizona (Dorian Johnson, Will Holden) and Baltimore (Nico Siragusa, Jermaine Eleumunor) added depth that will help David Johnson and Kenneth Dixon down the road.
Zoneblitz: Do you see any defenses getting better or worse fantasy-wise based on the draft and overall offseason?
Tuvey: The Ravens used their first four picks — cornerback Marlon Humphrey (does it make me old that I had his dad, Bobby, on some of my earlier fantasy teams?), DT Chris Wormley and edge guys Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams — to return that defense to a level much more in line with their intimidating — and fantasy-relevant – groups of years past. On paper the Browns improved all over that defense, but it’s the Browns so I’m not holding my breath on that one just yet. Dallas needed plenty of help on the dark side of the ball and they found it with three quality defensive backs — Chide Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis and Xavier Woods — and a pass rusher in Taco Charlton. An improved defense means less pressure on the offense, which in turn means even more carries for Ezekiel Elliott.
Zoneblitz: Besides the RBs mentioned previously, are there any long-term fantasy contributors you’re trending away from this year, either as a result of the draft, other moves or age?
Tuvey: Don’t know that he’s a long-term contributor but Sterling Shepard’s fantasy value has taken a beating this offseason with the Brandon Marshall signing and the drafting of Evan Engram. Latavius Murray looks like he was going to stumble into another year of fantasy success before Dalvin Cook fell into the Vikings’ lap. And both Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson get dinged — even more so with Alvin Kamara slated to take on the Reggie Bush role in that offense.
Zoneblitz: Do you see any QBs coming in and having a Russell Wilson or Dak Prescott effect?
Tuvey: Deshaun Watson has the opportunity in Houston; he’s got the weapons, they’ve got a solid defense, all that’s missing is the offensive line. Some of the predictive metrics I’ve seen aren’t in Watson’s favor, but of the rookie QBs he’d be my pick for 2017 success. Down the road, I think Patrick Mahomes II will be the most productive quarterback from this class, but I don’t think Andy Reid will rush him into the lineup as long as Alex Smith stays healthy.
Zoneblitz: Any other observations you’d like to make?
Tuvey: Just that I feel the same way coming out of every draft: how long until they strap on the pads and we play some meaningful football?
Zoneblitz: We agree there. Thank you for the time. Not sure if you consider the Hall of Fame game meaningful – I generally don’t – but it’s just under three months away.