AFC East Fantasy Preview
For as long as most fantasy football players can remember, the class of the AFC East has been the New England Patriots. They’ve won the division every year since 2009 and typically give us top tier guys at every fantasy position. Injuries and possible suspension threaten to derail this train, but the rest of the division is not without problems. The Miami Dolphins hired a new coach and watched their star RB walk in free agency, the Buffalo Bills are fighting injuries to key players, and the New York Jets face the sad prospect of starting Geno Smith at QB. All that being said, the division has more than its fair share of fantasy star power and just the right amount of mystery to keep it interesting.
New England Patriots
Coach/Staff: Bill Belichick enters his 16th year as head coach of the Patriots. He returns both Josh McDaniel and Matt Patricia as OC and DC, respectively. The team will see no major scheme changes from 2015.
QB: My views on Tom Brady are simple. With him serving this 4 game suspension and his current Average Draft Position, AVOID HIM. Yes, Brady finished as the #2 QB last year, but it’s the first time he’s been in the top 10 since 2012. Looking at his point per game value vs. QB12 and his ADP vs QB12, he’s not worth his current price. I use QB12 because in theory this should be your worst case scenario for a starting QB in a 12-team league. In 2015, Brady outscored the QB12 by only 3 points per game. In 2016, he is being drafted 3 rounds ahead of QB12 in ADP, meaning you are drafting a guy in the 6th round who will score you 100 fewer total points and only make up about 24 of those points the rest of the season after his Week 5 return. Can you afford to give up 75 points over the course of the season? If his ADP were to fall to say, the 10th round, then his diminished value starts to level out with those other late round QBs, and I’d pull the trigger on him there.
RB: Injury is the only thing keeping the world from singing the praises of Mr. Dion Lewis. Just looking at what he and fellow passing down RBs, James White and Brandon Bolden, did in 2015 paints a clear picture of the potential that lies in that role for 2016 in any version of PPR leagues.
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Basically, if Lewis stayed healthy, my guess is White and Bolden’s reception totals go to him and we are looking at a guy who finishes as a top 5 RB without even being his team’s primary rusher. All of this is speculation because he did tear his ACL in Week 9 last year, and will likely miss all of camp and most of the preseason. I’m optimistic he steps in where he left off in 2015, and he is a guy I want on my team in 2016. LeGarrette Blount did re-sign for one year and will likely handle short yardage and goal line duties. Blount is a bye week fill-in RB4 and nothing more.
WR: I imagine the trainer for the Patriots is very well compensated because New England WRs could not stay healthy in 2015. They let Brandon LaFell walk and seem ready to run Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola out as their primary WRs this year. Edelman is a target monster that is not afraid to work the middle of the field, which leads to obvious injury concerns. Edelman was a top 20 fantasy WR in 2013 and 2014, plus was pacing for top 10 before injuring his foot. This is the same injury that slowed Dez Bryant in 2015, and Julio Jones in 2013, but the time for recovery and different play style make me confident that Edelman will rebound in 2016. It appears that he will be ready to go Week 1, and you want him on your squad. Before you consider Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, or any other of the parade of possible WR2 for New England, just know that in 2015 the Patriots’ WR2 (Amendola) finished 46th in fantasy points.
TE: The only real question here is how high do I rank Martellus Bennett because there is no question about where Rob Gronkowski stands. Gronk is universally ranked as the #1 fantasy TE and has been 3 years running. He is worth a late 1st Round pick in any draft and gives you an instant advantage in almost all of your matchups. Bennett possesses more talent at the TE2 spot for New England than most starters in the league. His most productive years were 2012-14 when he was seeing 6-8 targets per game, and finished each year as a TE1. On a Patriots team with no true WR2, I think this volume is possible and Bennett is worth a look late in drafts.
Coach/Staff: Adam Gase will take the field as a head coach for the first time in 2016. He brings in a QB friendly scheme that helped resurrect Peyton Manning with the Broncos in 2013-14 and Jay Cutler with the Bears in 2015. His staff includes former Colts QB coach, Clyde Christensen, at offensive coordinator and former Bengals DB coach Vance Joseph at defensive coordinator.
QB: Going into 2015, the Ryan Tannehill hype train was going full steam ahead. He finally had the weapons they hadn’t gotten him his rookie year and there would be no more excuses. He plodded along to a 15th place finish among QBs. Gase is a guy who knows how quarterbacks tick, so improvement is not out of the question, but I’d rather let his 1st year play out and see where the pieces fall. He’ll finish as a solid QB2, but I’m not sure he’s ready to step into QB1 ranks yet.
RB: In 2015, Lamar Miller rushed for over 800 yards, caught 47 balls, and scored 10 total TDs. The Texans showed him the money and he was on the first train West. He did not clean up his mess before he left. Last year’s 5th Round draft pick, Jay Ajayi, was expected to get the job, but the Dolphins have added Arian Foster in free agency and Kenyan Drake at the draft. Ajayi was not given an opportunity to show much last year and likely won’t do much in 2016 either. Despite positive comments from the coach, actions speak louder than words, and the Dolphins pursued every free agent RB under sun, finally settling on Foster. Why should you care? Gase’s offense did produce a RB1 every year he was an OC, and Foster is an immensely talented running back whose biggest obstacle is his own body. If Foster proves healthy, he should be fantasy relevant even with limited touches. He catches the ball very well and should fill Miller’s role admirably. He is a steal at his current ADP, but that will rise. I would not touch Ajayi in fantasy until after training camp. We need to see how they intend to use these guys before determining his value. The rookie 3rd Round pick, Drake, will have to prove himself in training camp, as well, after missing most of minicamp with a hamstring injury.
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That would be good enough to put Parker in the bottom half of WR2s. Factoring in that he is built like a #1 in Adam Gase’s system (e.g., Demaryius Thomas, Alshon Jeffery), you could see Parker surpass even my projection for him. He presents low risk / high reward at his current WR31 ADP.
TE: Look, you’re not drafting Jordan Cameron as your starting TE. His disappointing 2015 has ensured that. Let me give you some incentive to give him a late look if you intend on streaming TEs this year. Again, based on Adam Gase’s history, you get the #2 TE in 2013, the #10 TE in 2014, and the starting Bears’ TE (Bennett / Miller) would have been the #11 TE in 2015. Gase gives us a TE1 year after year; Cameron is only two years removed from a top 5 season.
Coach/Staff: Rex Ryan and his run first offense return for year two. He returns both OC Greg Roman and DC Dennis Thurman, so we should see similar schemes from 2015.
QB: Did you know that even with missing 2 games in 2015, Tyrod Taylor was the #15 QB? Did you know that on a points per game basis he was a top 10 QB? Lastly, did you know that you can draft Tyrod Taylor in the 12th round as the QB19 this year? Taylor is reason enough to wait on QBs in your draft. While he may never put up 4,000 passing yards, last year he added another 500 rushing and scored 4 TDs on the ground. What he does with his legs levels out the playing field in fantasy, but keep in mind with a dual threat QB, a 3rd threat is never far behind: injury. If you decide to take him, draft a backup or be quick on the waiver wire.
RB: It’s been awhile since anyone has been able to call LeSean McCoy a fantasy value. With his tremendous talent, Shady has been much more likely to go in the first half of the 1st Round than his current ADP of the late 3rd Round. McCoy finished 2015 as the 17th RB despite only playing in 12 games. If he continued on his same pace for those other 4 games, he would have rushed for about 1200 yards and been a top 5 RB. A potential top 5 back you can currently get in the 3rd Round…yes, please. Clearly, injury is a risk, but I can’t think of a single top RB that doesn’t have some injury baggage, and you don’t have to pay a 1st Round pick to land Shady. Last year’s 5th Round pick for Buffalo, Karlos Williams, burst onto the scene, scoring a TD in each of his first 6 games. Injuries sidelined him for parts of 2015, but the talent is clearly there. There are two huge obstacles to his 2016 value: a 4 game suspension and a gut. Within a 48 hour period, a very unflattering picture of Williams doing his best Eddie Lacy impersonation surfaced, and he was suspended by the league for violating the substance-abuse policy. The plus side is that the extra time off should give him plenty of time to shed the excess weight. Considering Williams was the #36 RB last season in only 11 games and his ability to find the end zone (9 TDs in those 11 games), he stays in the RB3 conversation. He is currently being drafted as the 40th RB, which is fair, suspension or not.
WR: On the run first offense in Buffalo, there is only one WR worth your consideration: Sammy Watkins. He finished 2015 as the 20th WR, and was a top 10 WR over the last 5 weeks of the season, scoring 4 TDs in the last 5 contests. However, after breaking his foot in the preseason, the risk in 2016 is enormous. Some WRs recover fine from this type of injury, like Julio Jones in 2014 (WR6). While others do not, like Dez Bryant in 2015 (WR81) and Marvin Jones in 2014 (DNP). At his current ADP of late 3rd Round as the #20 WR I’m not touching him. If I can get him 2 rounds later as my WR3, the risk starts to even out. Yes, this is the same injury I expect the Patriots’ WR Julian Edelman to recover from, but he has a lot more time to recover. Watch this situation thru the preseason before taking a gamble on Sammy come draft time.
TE: Rex Ryan does not run a TE friendly offense. Charles Clay was mediocre to bad in fantasy last year. He finished as the #17 TE and had more 2 point games (4) than touchdowns (3) in 2015. He’s barely a streaming option and definitely should not hear his name called on your draft day.
New York Jets
Coach/Staff: The Jets head coach, Todd Bowles, is back for season two. He held on to both coordinators as well so we’ll see Chan Gailey’s spread offense and Kacy Rodgers’s defense again in 2016.
QB: As of this writing, Ryan Fitzpatrick is still unemployed and Geno Smith is just hoping to not get punched in the face again. If Fitzpatrick returns he has QB1 potential. He threw for almost 4,000 yards and 31 TDs last year. If you waited too long on QB in your draft, Fitzpatrick represents a nice lottery ticket type pick in the 14th round, which is his current ADP. If it’s Geno, just be ready to deeply ridicule whoever does draft him.
RB: Exit Chris Ivory, enter Matt Forte. We’ve never seen Forte out of a Bears uniform but my guess is he’ll still look like the same guy. Yes, he’s 30 years old, the fantasy RB kiss of death, but this is a guy who finished 2015 as the #9 fantasy running back and was the #3 back over the last 5 games. He catches the ball as well as anyone, and the Jets are even saying they may use him the slot this year. In any PPR league, Forte should be one of the first 10 RBs off the board. The addition of Forte should lead to the subtraction of touches for Bilal Powell. Forte is one of the best passing down backs in the league, and that was the only role that made Powell worth drafting. I’d avoid him and newcomer Khiry Robinson altogether unless Forte ends up hurt.
WR: No player in the league has his value tied to another player like Brandon Marshall to Ryan Fitzpatrick. If Fitzpatrick is at the helm there is little question that Marshall is a top 10 WR and basically a steal at his current ADP. If it’s Geno Smith he may not be a WR1 at all. Smith has only started one year in the NFL, 2014, and his WR1, Eric Decker, finished as the #26 fantasy WR. The WR2, the role Decker currently plays, finished as #82. Simply put, Geno is bad for business. If Fitzpatrick signs, which I think he will, Marshall is a WR1 who could approach 1500 yards again and Decker is a solid WR2. If it’s Geno, neither one is trustworthy and not at all worth their ADP.
TE: The Jets haven’t given us a TE1 since 2011 and Jace Amaro spent last year on the IR. He may turn into a streaming option but you are not drafting him.
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