NFL DFS: Quick Fantasy Position Outlooks Heading into 2017 – AFC East
NFL is almost here! Finally!
Whether you’ve started your DFS NFL preparation or not, it’s always a good idea to get an idea on what the status is of each fantasy position on every team is heading into preseason. While some are obvious and even others remain relatively clear, having clarity on where the battles are on the depth chart is crucial. Not only do you want context in what you’re looking for in preseason, but you want to have that preparation for when injuries occur in the regular season and when that random rookie you’ve never heard of breaks out.
As a preliminary note, these are just quick overviews. They aren’t intended to be in-depth team previews. We’ll primarily focus on players who have the greatest chances at starting, or at least making the 53-man rosters. We’ll sprinkle in some collegiate highlights of the rookies or younger players you can expect to see a good amount of in preseason.
Alright, let’s do this.
QB1 – Tyrod Taylor
QB2 – T.J. Yates
QB3 – Nathan Peterman
Tyrod Taylor isn’t in jeopardy of losing his job. Let’s just get that out of the way. Yes, Sean McDermott is now the head coach with a new offensive coordinator in Rick Dennison. But remember, Dennison has already worked with Taylor when the two were with the Baltimore Ravens. There’s a prior connection, but even if there wasn’t, Taylor is the far superior QB to the other guys. The Bills have recently been one of the most run-heavy teams, Tyrod rarely turns the ball over, the WR corp behind a banged up Sammy Watkins has been mediocre at best and the options behind him aren’t stellar for 2017.
From a DFS standpoint, people can forget how sneaky good some dual-threat QBs are. In 2016, Tyrod led QBs in rushing yards (580), tied with Dak Prescott for most rushing TDs (6) and finished second behind Blaine Gabbert for most rushing attempts per game (6.3). Because of this, Taylor finished 8th among QBs in DraftKings fantasy points per game (FPPG). So a quick reminder – Taylor often gets overlooked in great matchups with his upside.
How much that upside comes into play in 2017 will be heavily determined by how often Taylor gets to run the ball. Obviously the Bills likely won’t run Taylor very much in the preseason at the risk of injury. But I would watch and see if they do run some zone-read even if Taylor hands it off nearly every time, just to see if they are going to present the look as an indicator for the regular season.
The real contest at QB is for the No. 2 spot. Despite not being on a roster for most of last year, Yates is the safe bet. However, given the success Nathan Peterman had at Pittsburgh against some very strong defenses both with and without Tyler Boyd, it would not surprise me to see Peterman play his way into the backup role.
RB1 – LeSean McCoy
RB2 – Jonathan Williams
RB3 – Joe Banyard
LeSean McCoy is obviously the man here. He finished 4th in both DraftKings and FanDuel FPPG while only receiving the 17th-most carries per game. McCoy’s 5.41 yards per carry (YPC) was best in the league for RBs who saw more than 101 touches. If you lowered the carry minimum to 100? Then it’s Mike Gillislee’s 5.71 YPC, who no longer is in Buffalo and moves in division to the New England Patriots.
Between the OL’s run blocking along with Tyrod’s dual-threat ability, it’s easy to see why the Bills’ run percentage was 2nd in the league last season. With Gillislee gone and having a new coaching staff for 2017, there’s the potential for McCoy’s carries to go up. Furthermore, he may have fewer TDs vultured. Last season, of the seven TD rushes inside two yards, Gillislee took four of them, while McCoy, Jonathan Williams and Reggie Bush each had one.
The indicator on this is who takes over as the No. 2 back. Williams should slide into that role. This is the former Razorback’s second season in the league, and he should once again get a good amount of touches in the preseason. Obviously his development is something to watch, especially how he’s used in the offense. Williams is a bigger back who particularly thrived in the red zone with Arkansas. On the flip side, he wasn’t involved much in the passing game. The very early trends with the Bills are on par with that.
WR1 – Sammy Watkins
WR2 – Zay Jones
WR3 – Andre Holmes
WR4 – Corey Brown
WR5 – Rod Streater
Let’s immediately move past Watkins since we know it’s all about health for him and is the clear No. 1 guy. But we have several new faces rounding out this group of WRs. I’m a big fan of Zay Jones, a strong 6’2″ 200 rookie with big hands and incredible hand-eye coordination. That combination will lead to some spectacular catches in the vertical passing game. He could also easily be used on shorter routes and WR screens, but given that Watkins is the No. 1 WR and the Bills in significant need of a consistent deep threat opposite of him, my guess is we’ll see a lot of deeper routes for Jones.
Obviously Jones is the most intriguing of the group to watch in preseason. Taking a look at the others – Andre Holmes is the main candidate who will compete with Jones for snaps. After playing a relatively decent role with the Oakland Raiders early in his career, he lost action due to the arrivals of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Last season Holmes finished 147th in DraftKings FPPG among WRs.
On the positive side, Holmes hasn’t missed a game since 2013 and is the type of WR you’d want opposite of Watkins. If Holmes is going to step back into a significant role, now is definitely the time to step up. You won’t find many better situations to earn a No. 2 WR spot.
Holmes will also reunite with Rod Streater. The two were teammates in Oakland through 2015 before Streater made a pit-stop with the Kansas City Chiefs and eventually landing back in the Bay Area to spend 2016 with the San Francisco 49ers. Given that Streater has already tried to find a more prominent role with two other franchises and that both were (and likely still are) in need of weapons on the outside, I’m far more skeptical Streater makes an impact in Buffalo.
As for Corey Brown, I certainly expect him to see action each week, just only in certain packages. Brown, much like several of the athletes coming out of Urban Meyer teams in college, is someone who can be used on WR screens, jet sweeps, zone-read plays and other wrinkles to get Brown in space. Brown comes over from the Carolina Panthers, where McDermott was previously defensive coordinator. So, there’s familiarity there. Plus, Brown will have another running QB in Taylor to work with. This signing makes sense, and I assume we’ll see Brown in similar-type packages in Buffalo.
Remember, with Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, Walt Powell and Justin Hunter now gone, that’s 192 targets missing.
TE1 – Charles Clay
TE2 – Nick O’Leary
TE3 – Logan Thomas
I don’t think we’ll learn much here. Clay will very likely have another ho-hum 60-catch 600 yard season with a handful of TD receptions. Nick O’Leary did play in every contest last year for his second season. Perhaps we’ll see an additional jump in year three, but it very likely won’t impact Clay’s production. Logan Thomas is the former Virginia Tech QB who stated under center on the bench with the Arizona Cardinals, but he made the switch to TE toward the end of 2016 when joining the Detroit Lions. He’s more on the bubble for a roster spot.
QB1 – Ryan Tannehill
QB2 – Matt Moore
QB3 – Brandon Doughty
QB4 – David Fales
The depth chart here is pretty clear and accurate. It’s more about health for Ryan Tannehill, who is coming off his ACL injury last season. I highly doubt we’ll see QB runs for Tannehill in the preseason, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ran a little bit less in the regular season. As long as he looks confident coming off the injury and throwing with the knee brace, there won’t be much to see here. But with the emergence of Jay Ajayi (finally) and Tannehill potentially running less after finishing just 22nd in DraftKings FPPG , the stock on Tannehill is heading downward.
Matt Moore is easily one of the better backup QBs and should have a firm place on the No. 2 QB spot.
The battle will be for the No. 3 role and ultimately who will be making the 53-man roster between Brandon Doughty and David Fales.
RB1 – Jay Ajayi
RB2 – Damien Williams
RB3 – Kenyan Drake
If you were following me for NFL last season, you know I was calling for Ajayi to be the main guy early on. This was particularly infuriating when Miami didn’t let Ajayi loose in Week 3 at home versus the Cleveland Browns since Arian Foster went down. The Dolphins started 1-4 and really should have gone 0-5 since the Browns kicking game was a complete disaster.
While it was for disciplinary issues and I am sure Adam Gase had his reasons, the Dolphins closed the season 9-2 with Ajayi as the primary RB. The Boise State Bronco bulldozed through defenses with 21 carries a game for 5.04 YPC in that stretch. There’s no doubt Ajayi will be leading the backfield again, and he should get around 75% of the team’s total carries in 2017.
Damien Williams is likely the No. 2 back right now, and he’s entering his fourth year with more experience than Kenyan Drake. Williams does offer receiving value and makes sense to be the occasional 3rd-down option to come in for Ajayi.
However, we have seen flashes of what Drake can do, especially on special teams with his acceleration. Not only did Williams have a critical kickoff return for a TD in the 2016 National Championship, he also returned a go-ahead fourth quarter kickoff return for a score against the New York Jets last season. Williams only played in one fewer game than Drake last season (15-to-16 ) while only receiving two more carries (35-to-33), but it was Drake who ran for 5.4 YPC against Williams’ 3.3.
Given that Williams has yet to go for more than 3.7 YPC in a season, there’s an opportunity here for Drake to grab the No. 2 spot if he really stands out in preseason.
WR1 – Jarvis Landry
WR2 – Kenny Stills
WR3 – DeVante Parker
WR4 – Leonte Carroo
WR5 – Jakeem Grant
The WR situation is the exact same as last year. Everyone is younger than 26-years old, and it doesn’t look like the pecking order should change for the most part.
If there is one thing I’m keeping an eye on, it’s DeVante Parker’s snap percentage and if it’ll go up this year. Jarvis Landry led Dolphins WRs in 2016 with 94.1% of snaps, Kenny Stills was second with 83.9% and Parker finished with 77.6%.
Since the Dolphins primarily play in three WR sets and that Parker did miss one game, we are really nitpicking here. Ultimately, there’s somewhat of a limited ceiling here for Parker’s statistical improvement in 2017, especially when you consider Ajayi’s outburst. Plus, Stills signed a four-year extension with the Dolphins in the offseason.
But it’s good to note that Parker showed tremendous strides from his rookie season to his second year, both statistically and everything that goes into being a good WR. Despite playing in one fewer game and saw a lower percentage of snaps than Stills, Parker drew more targets (87-81) and edged him reasonably in catch percentage (64.4%-51.9%). Stills had the edge over Parker in TDs 9-to-4 with Landry only pulling in 4 TDs. There’s some regression coming.
TE1 – Julius Thomas
TE2 – Anthony Fasano
TE3 – MarQueis Gray
Another TE position that’s most likely pretty straight forward. After breaking out on the Denver Broncos with Peyton Manning at QB, Julius Thomas’ TDs regressed with the Jacksonville Jaguars and battled injuries along the way. Anthony Fasano returns to Miami after a couple two-year stints as the No. 2 TE with the Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans. Marqueis Gray, a QB who was converted to TE, signed an extension with the Dolphins after playing in every game last season as primarily a blocking TE.
From a fantasy standpoint, this is the clear pecking order. Thomas is the best pass-catching option by far, Fasano is likely on the back-end of his career and Gray likely will continue to block to help a mediocre OL.
With an offensive mind like Gase and if Thomas is healthy, it’s possible Julius has a minor resurgence. But it won’t be close to his value with the Broncos.
New England Patriots
QB1 – Tom Brady
QB2 – Jimmy Garoppolo
QB3 – Jacoby Brissett
It’s obviously intriguing to watch Jimmy Garoppolo given the teams interested in him, or for the future of the Patriots once Tom Brady hangs it up. But for 2017 DFS purposes, you know there’s nothing we can learn here.
RB1 – Mike Gillislee
RB2 – James White
RB3 – Dion Lewis
James White and Dion Lewis return, but Gillislee steps in for the departed LaGarette Blount. Obviously when it comes to the Pats and Bill Belichick, it’s as tough of a situation to get any kind of a read on something in preseason.
The one thing we can at least look at is what formations Gillislee gets the call for. Does he simply step in for the exact role that Blount had? This is getting about half of the RB’s snaps and doing it mostly under center on standard downs or short-yardage situations going between the tackles.
Oh, and will Gillislee be getting every single RB rushing TD? Yes, Jacoby Brissett’s 27-yard TD run was the only rushing TD by a Pats player last season not named Blount.
Or, will Gillislee get some looks on passing downs or even some looks in the shotgun next to the QB and split White or Lewis out wide? This is one of those scenarios where we’re gonna have to pay attention to little details and look past the short sample size of data.
As for White and Lewis, it obviously depends on how much of a role Gillislee gets, but they will likely be in some kind of a battle between themselves. Lewis’ injury sidelined him for the last nine games of 2015 and the first nine games of 2016. They saw approximately the same amount of snaps in 2015, but White saw 38% of snaps while Lewis only received 14.6% last year.
Because he played such a monstrous role in the Super Bowl comeback, his numbers quite frankly didn’t change much once Lewis returned in 2016 and that it’s not out of the question to think he could even become the primary RB, most think White has the inside track for at least the No. 2 (or 1B) slot, and that’s probably accurate. White was also extended in the offseason.
But I’d be very surprised if Lewis didn’t make the 53-man roster, and I don’t think he’ll just sit on the bench the entire game either. Lewis is a diverse RB who has played very well for New England when healthy.
WR1 – Julian Edelman
WR2 – Brandin Cooks
WR3 – Chris Hogan
WR4 – Malcolm Mitchell
WR5 – Danny Amendola
Even though Julian Edelman is listed as the No. 1 WR and we know his role on the team, all eyes are on Brandin Cooks. Quite frankly, the former New Orleans Saints WR was acquired for quite the bargain, and this offense very well could be as explosive as the one from 2007 if a few things fall into place. Cooks ranked 10th in FanDuel FPPG last year, and it’s not unreasonable to think he could do just as well in New England. It’s not like Drew Brees wasn’t spreading the wealth in the Superdome. In fact, Cooks only saw the 31st-most targets for WRs last season. He made up for it by catching 66.7% of targets and putting up over 15 yards per reception to go with just a modest 8 TDs. If Cooks is clicking in Josh McDaniels’ offense, look out.
With two awesome WRs, Rob Gronkowski at TE and the pass-catching backs involved, the next WR in line can only do so much. Chris Hogan probably has the edge given he’s the one WR listed here over 6-feet, out-snapped rookie Malcom Mitchell 74.1% to 48 % last year and is the vertical threat New England probably wants.
On the other hand, you could argue Mitchell has the greater upside at this point. Perhaps that’s not the most important thing for 2017, but if Mitchell makes significant progress in preseason, it wouldn’t surprise me if Mitchell saw more playing time than we expect.
TE1 – Rob Gronkowski
TE2 – Dwayne Allen
TE3 – James O’Shaughnessy
Gronk is back healthy, and we know what he does. Having said that, New England bringing in Dwayne Allen to replace Martellus Bennett is perhaps a bigger deal than advertised. Gronk is now 28, and he’s played 11 or fewer games in a season in three of the last five years. For DFS purposes, we’re not concerned about a season-ending injury, but Gronk’s weekly projection should be a little bit lower given his 100% may not be the same as it once was.
By no means is Gronk a middle-of-the-road TE. He’s still one of the best TE fantasy options.
However, when you combine a history of injuries, the acquisitions of Cooks and Allen, plus both White and Lewis starting the year healthy, it’s a reasonable assumption.
As for Allen, we should keep an eye on what will likely be limited preseason action for him. Is he used primarily as a blocking TE? Will we see Allen run a lot of passing routes and watch New England really try and spread the field as much as possible? Or, does Allen simply struggle in the New England offense and surprisingly not make the roster?
New York Jets
Before we dive into the QBs … I’m usually someone who thinks a situation is never as extreme as it seems. Meaning, when things are going really well, it’s not quite as good as you may think. When things are going poorly. it’s not as bad as you may think.
That’s not the case with the Jets. If I power-ranked all 32 teams, the Jets come in last (yes, even to the Browns and 49ers). The Browns are in year 2 of a rebuild, and hopefully Jimmy Haslem stays out of the way and let’s the front office have the appropriate amount of time for the rebuild. The 49ers are in year 1 of starting over, and they brought in one of the best offensive minds for head coach in Kyle Shanahan, who was the offensive coordinator for arguably the best offense in NFL history last season when the Atlanta Falcons put up 6.7 yards per play.
The Jets are a year away from realistically starting their rebuild. Yes, part of that is expecting this to be Todd Bowels’ last season with the franchise, but it’s also how bizarrely the roster is constructed. The Jets likely have the fewest appealing options when it comes to DFS or season-long fantasy.
QB1 – Josh McCown
QB2 – Christian Hackenberg
QB3 – Bryce Petty
Enter the QB position. With Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith gone, we have Josh McCown, who is the likely starter for 2017 and perhaps 2017 only. He’s 38, playing behind a mediocre OL and surrounded by a skill-position group of question marks for one reason or another. Unless we see something unique under new OC John Morton, there will very likely be much better cheap QB options with greater upside in garbage time.
But is McCown definitely the starter? Possibly not. Or, even if McCown is the starter Week 1, an injury could easily take place later on, or the Jets want to give one of the young guys more of a chance when officially hitting the tank button.
Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty have both been a work in progress. Hackenberg, who was a very highly touted prospect out of high school and had his ups and downs at Penn State, enters his second season. Hackenberg never made a start last season and has been working on improving his mechanics, according to QB coach Jeremy Bates (via Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated).
Meanwhile, Petty is now in his third year and has had to make some adjustments as well coming from Art Briles’ run-and-shoot offense at Baylor.
No matter who wins the job, or whoever makes the start in a given week, I can’t imagine rostering any of them even at min-salary. Too many variables need to fall into the right place for it to be worth it.
But it is a QB battle that is more up in the air than most teams heading into preseason.
RB1 – Bilal Powell
RB2 – Matt Forte
RB3 – Elijah McGuire
So is this finally the year Bilal Powell becomes the primary RB? We keep hearing every year that it will be, but it has yet to happen.
While I have been more on the Matt Forte train than most since he joined the Jets, this is actually the year I expect Powell does in fact become more of the main guy. Powell’s YPC launched to a career best 5.5 last season and Forte’s dropped to a poor 3.7 with the former Chicago Bear coming off knee surgery. Additionally, with Morton now at OC, that could mean a shift is coming. Plus, by the time the season ended, Powell out-snapped Forte 50.9% to 46.8%. There’s simply more evidence to suggest Powell could be in for a larger role.
Sadly, we probably won’t learn too much in preseason about this except for whatever we hear from the coaches. We know both backs are going to play in the regular season to some extent, and since both are essentially veterans at this point, we know their playing time in preseason won’t mean much.
I would more keep an eye on Elijah McGuire in August. For those who don’t know anything about the Ragin’ Cajuns of Louisiana Lafayette, McGuire was essentially the offense for his entire college career. He led the team in yards from scrimmage all four years, and he contributes both in the rushing and receiving game.
While it’s unlikely he’ll have a huge role this season and was only a sixth-round pick, I actually think McGuire has an excellent shot at making the 53-man roster and could even contribute some this year if one of the RBs goes down.
WR1 – Quincy Enunwa
WR2 – Robby Anderson
WR3 – ArDarius Stewart
WR4 – Charone Peake
WR5 – Chad Hansen
WR6 – Jalin Marshall (suspended first four weeks)
WR7 – Marquess Wilson
WR8 – Chris Harper
WR9 – Lucky Whitehead
I included nine WRs here because this position is one of the toughest to predict. Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are gone, so there are plenty of targets to go around. Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson are in the driver’s seat for the top two WRs. I’d be surprised if ArDarius Stewart doesn’t at least make the 53-man roster after the Jets used a third-round pick on him.
But for the most part, I think all nine guys will have a realistic chance at making the team and at least half of them have an opportunity at cracking the top three. Whether they are a rookie, coming off injury, dealing with a suspension or simply didn’t have much of an opportunity to do much with their prior organization, nearly everyone comes in with a question mark.
We’ll obviously pick up on who works with the first team and second team throughout preseason, but I’ll also be just as interested in what kind of formations the Jets run with their new OC. Is there a lot of I-Formation with only two WRs? Do the Jets finally have some depth at TE to run two-TE sets and get some production off play action to the big guys? Or will there be more opportunity for the WRs with three-WR sets?
Because these questions expand to the TE position and the RBs will only catch so many passes, there’s certainly a chance for one of these WRs to provide value, which could start as early as Week 1 facing a sub-par Bills secondary.
While it’s likely going to be a tough year for this offense, this is a competition worth keeping a close eye on.
TE1 – Austin Seferian-Jenkins
TE2 – Jordan Leggett
TE3 – Eric Tomlinson
Austin Seferian-Jenkins believes he is going to have his best year yet, and he’s been very busy this offseason working on his overall health, according to Darryl Slater of NJ.com. A lot of players have said similar statements, but only some come to fruition.
But after Seferian-Jenkins was suspended to start 2016 for a DUI arrest, this is obviously a positive sign of possible maturity for an offense that could desperately use a career year from him. He should have the edge as the No. 1 TE and will probably play a little more than expected in preseason.
Who may challenge him? The intriguing prospect is Jordan Leggett, the playmaking TE from Clemson. Leggett frequently thrived lining up as a WR on passing downs or sprinting up the seam on standard downs.
How will he do in a Jets offense that will be completely different and won’t be surrounded by as many playmakers compared to the defenses they are playing? We’ll get an indication in preseason.
If the Jets are a run-heavy team and want to primarily put the TEs next to the tackles, Leggett could be irrelevant for DFS in 2017. But if the Jets are willing to throw more, line Leggett up in the slot or try to simply build more pass plays for the TEs overall if the WRs don’t come along, then Leggett may be worth keeping tabs on.View all posts by Nick Juskewycz