Fantasy Football: Should You Draft Players in Bad Offenses?
With the preseason comes narratives. Which rookie QB might win a camp battle? Which veterans will be cut? When will the Chargers lose a player to injury for the entire season? (The answer to that one was the first sprint of training camp, RIP Jason Verrett) But there is one overarching narrative that most everyone agrees with: The Buffalo Bills offense is going to be bad…possibly historically bad. But what does that mean for the likes of LeSean McCoy or Kelvin Benjamin? Are focal points of bad offenses still good for fantasy purposes?
I decided to look at the worst 5 offenses in each of the last 5 years and see how their individual players faired. To measure the “worst” offenses, I looked mainly at 2 things: Total Yards and Total Points. Some teams popped up in both categories but if there was variance, I leaned towards the team that couldn’t score points. I think it’s safe to say that we don’t trust the Bills and New York Jets, and to some extent, you can lump in Miami and the Baltimore Ravens, so I will be referencing their players quite a bit and try to help you decide if you should roster any of them in 2018.
The Worst of the Worst
In the interest of full disclosure, I want to show you the teams that I used to form the stats I will be referencing. So without further ado, here are the 5 worst offenses of the last 5 seasons.
These are in no particular order and again, this is a combination of the worst scoring offenses and those who managed the fewest yards. For the “Start 1” positions (QB & TE), I considered a top 15 finish as a success. For RB and WR, where you typically start 2 or 3 players, I considered a top 30 finish a success. Here’s what I learned.
Stay Away From QBs!
This is your classic chicken vs. egg dilemma. Are these offenses terrible because of their QBs or are these QBs terrible because of the team around them? Whichever it is, you cannot roster a QB if you do not believe in the team offense. Of the 25 QBs reviewed here, not one finished in the positional top 15 in fantasy football. In fact, 24 of the 25 didn’t even crack the top 20, Andy Dalton from 2017 was the only outlier, finishing as the QB16. Not one of these 25 QBs was considered to be fantasy elite so the idea is clear, avoid bad QBs on bad teams. Essentially, this puts the Bills QB, Jets QB, Joe Flacco and possibly Ryan Tannehill in an untouchable territory for your fantasy roster.
Running Backs, Running Backs, Running Backs
If there is value to be found in these offensive voids, it’s at the running back position. Over the 5 years reviewed, 15 of these teams had top 30 RBs. In two instances, one team had more than one (2017 Bengals & 2016 Jets). That means that over the last 5 seasons, the worst offenses have produced 17 successful running backs, by far the highest success rate on this list. Recent history is even kinder, looking that just the last two seasons, 12 RBs from 10 teams cracked the top 30. A prevailing thought here is that pass-catching backs would stand out on this list, but of the 17 total successes, only 3 caught 50+ balls on the season. It should also be noted that only Jordan Howard last year and Todd Gurley in 2015 were able to finish as an RB1. Overall, this means that Shady McCoy at his current ADP may not be the value some think he is but should at least play to his RB16 ADP. On the other hand, Alex Collins, Isaiah Crowell, Kenyan Drake, and possibly even Bilal Powell could be value picks for 2018.
What About the Pass-Catchers?
If QBs are terrible and RBs are good, then WRs fall somewhere in the middle. It’s rare for a WR on one of these offenses to finish as a WR1 or even a WR2 really, but WR3 is there for the taking and, for the most part, that’s where these guys are being drafted in 2018. Looking at the these worst 25 offenses, only 10 of their WR were able to finish in the positional top 30, just slightly better than TEs. This also produced one of the most interesting outlier categories: Good WRs on bad teams. Last year, we saw TY Hilton fail to reach top 20 for WRs. In 2016, DeAndre Hopkins finished at the WR30 and Brandon Marshall couldn’t crack the top 40, and in 2013 Victor Cruz missed the WR top 20 for the first time in 3 years. A bad offense, and/or QB, can drag a good WR down. AJ Green and Mike Evans, however, are the only guys to finish as a WR1 while on these terrible offenses. This all comes down to ADP and tempering your expectations. Guys like Michael Crabtree, Robby Anderson, and Devante Parker still provide some value based on where you can draft them, but realistically, they may only have a WR2 ceiling. More interesting are guys being drafted outside of the top 40 (Kelvin Benjamin, Corey Coleman, Quincy Enunwa, and Kenny Stills) because they have that same WR2 upside but for far less cost. I believe that’s called low risk, high reward.
Tight End was pretty bad, though not the 0-for-25 bad that QB performed. Over the last 5 seasons, only 8 of the TEs from the worst offenses cracked the top 15. The major outliers here were Delanie Walker and Jason Witten. They were the only 2 stud TEs to be found in this bottom 5 list, and they both finished in the positional top 12 in those seasons. Rule #1, play your studs. Of the 8 successes, only 3 played for teams that also had a top 30 WR. It appears that TE success is tied to them being in a situation where they are the best receiving option. This means that Charles Clay could present an solid value at his 14th round ADP. His primary competition for downfield targets is only Kelvin Benjamin and the newly acquired Corey Coleman. Clay finished last year as the TE18 and is primed to improve on his 2017 numbers.
Both the Jets and Ravens have loaded up at the WR position, making their TEs far less valuable based on this data. An interesting prospect is Miami’s Mike Gesecki. He’s also going in the 14th round of fantasy drafts and early camp reports are that he and Ryan Tannehill are really hitting it off. The primary WRs there are still relatively unproven, though I still love Kenny Stills in the 10th round, so Gesecki could be looking at an Evan Engram like rookie season.
Overall, there is value to be had on bad offenses…but it’s limited. The top wide receivers on these teams should find themselves in the top 40, so as long as you’re not overpaying, they will fill out the back end of your roster nicely. Running backs represent the highest upside but if the offenses struggle, it’s also a position that could be game scripted out of relevance. Tight Ends need the perfect situation to succeed but at a position with such low variance between tiers, they make great late round flyers. Avoid the QBs like the plague. If you’re a QB streamer, they might make for a decent weekly start here or there, but do not call their name on draft day. That’s just throwing away a pick.