Minnesota was the 5th worse offense in terms of yards per game in 2016, but there are reasons to be a bit more hopeful for 2017. Right before the season started in 2016, Teddy Bridgewater gets hurt, and the team had to send a first round draft pick over to Philadelphia to get an emergency replacement in Sam Bradford. Bradford was thrown in into a situation that most quarterbacks would probably fold under. Bad offensive line, no run game, but it turned out that he had some decent receivers and made the best out of his situation. With those weapons, he completed the season with the best completion percentage of all time. He even threw the most efficient deep ball in the league last year. With legitimate emerging weapons in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, Bradford will have a full offseason of work with these guys to really get used to the playbook and all the nuances of the offense before taking his team out on the field during the regular season.
Bad luck hit Minnesota again when Adrian Peterson got hurt a couple of weeks into the season, and the team had to rely on Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, who did not give the Vikings any sort of spark or hope in the running game. Replacing Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata with Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook, along with beefing up the offensive line a little bit, I see the Vikings having a decent running game to complement their efficient passing game. With a little more time in the pocket, Bradford can let his plays develop a little longer to hit those intermediate and longer routes to have defenses stay honest. The Vikings have a good defense, and this will allow their running game to be a part of the game from start to end, so I am buying into their rushing attack this year, so both Murray and Cook are fantasy options for me. I wrote an article about what I think about those two this year.
Diggs and Thielen are guys I am targeting in PPR leagues this year. Thielen is a huge steal in the 10th round, and we’ve seen that he can completely take over a game if relied upon. I might even pass up on Diggs in the 6th, draft someone like Garcon there, and pick up Thielen in the 10th. Thielen’s not going to be as productive as Diggs, but I probably like the one-two combination of Garcon and Thielen more than Diggs and let’s say, Corey Coleman. I do like Coleman, so I have to think about that one. But these are the kinds of strategies that a mock draft will help you decide on what you like better. Thought about it; I think I’ll go Garcon and Thielen. Don’t forget about Kyle Rudolph either. He was right behind Diggs in leading the team in receptions, and will be a huge part of the offense again. In PPR, he’s a great option and he remains a red zone threat as well. He’s being drafted late in the 8th round, and I’m all over him at that ADP.
The Dolphins went 10-6 last year, and won 10 of their last 11 games. They lost to the Ravens in Week 13, and their last loss before that was Week 5. A part of that was finding their running game. All of a sudden, Jay Ajayi gets 25 carries Week 6 against the Steelers and goes HAM. From then on, they only lost one game. I think it’s safe to say that they found their formula. Another year in the Adam Gase offense will only improve things on that side of the ball, and the continuity helps as well. The starters at wide receiver are the same as they were last year: Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, and Kenny Stills. Their running back is still Jay Ajayi. They also added a new weapon at tight end in Julius Thomas. Adam Gase can take this offense to the next level, but who are the guys that will emerge as fantasy relevant?
The two obvious no-brainers are Jay Ajayi and Jarvis Landry. Landry has been getting it done for a few years now, and Ajayi supposedly can get 300 carries this year. But what about DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills? Are they ready to break out into impact fantasy players? What about Julius Thomas? We have to keep in mind that this is still a run-first team, but there is room for big play ability. If we had to bet on a player, it would have to be DeVante Parker. There were a few things that he wasn’t doing right in his first two years that he needed to do in order to be a healthy receiver in the NFL, like eating right and working out properly to avoid injury. Apparently, he’s doing all of those things now and his offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said he thinks he’s going to have “a gigantic year.” Take that for what you want, but I do think this offense under Gase can support another wide receiver, and Gase has history of being able to do that, especially having that bigtime #1 wide receiver on the outside. Even though this is a run-first team, I expect the pass percentage to go up a bit as their running efficiency goes up, and that’s where the sweet spot is to be successful on play-action and bootlegs. More pass attempts means more opportunity for Dolphins receivers. As a Jets fan, this blurb has pained me. I hope you can feel my pain. Just gotta tell the truth.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston is going into his third year in 2017. He’s had a decent first couple of years in the NFL. He has shown his talents, but has struggled with interceptions. The Bucs made a change around Week 5 to start depending on their run game and defense instead of letting Winston air it out almost 60 times a game. Before Weeks 1 through 4 last year, Winston threw eight interceptions, but threw ten the rest of the year. Since Week 5, he only averaged 32 attempts per game. The team philosophy changed as their defense got better, and I think that will roll over to this upcoming season. His touchdown numbers and completion percentage both went up from his first year to second, and I think with added weapons in DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin, his third season can improve as well.
It’s hard to imagine what the offense will look like with a low passing volume, especially when it comes to predicting production from DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin. I don’t think there’s enough room for three wide receivers when it comes to fantasy relevance. Mike Evans will obviously be a stud, and I think DeSean Jackson will be the one to emerge with some non-PPR value. Jackson gives the Bucs offense something they haven’t had: a field stretcher that takes pressure off of Mike Evans. That means so much to an offense. Safeties have to play back more, Winston has more of the field to work with, he now has one of the best deep weapons in the league to show off his known deep pass skills, and Evans will have the most single coverage he’s seen since his rookie year. Cameron Brate and OJ Howard provide a good 1-2 punch at tight end, but it’s hard to tell who will get the starting job. Brate has been solid, but isn’t anything like the athlete Howard is. However, tight ends rarely put up great seasons their rookie year, so we might have to depend on Brate a little more in 2017.
As far as this running game goes, Doug Martin is a talented runner who will get a crack at retaining his starting job when he’s back from suspension in Week 4. In the meantime, I love drafting Jacquizz Rodgers late in drafts to potentially get all the work those first few weeks. If I can put a workhorse running back in my flex for the first few weeks, I’ll take that every time over a lot of flex options to help me secure those early wins. DeSean Jackson has actually had a positive effect on his teams’ rushing ability as well, and it makes sense. I expect this offense to take a step forward, but don’t expect that many more fantasy options coming out of Tampa Bay.
The Titans were 11th in offensive yards per game, and 14th in points per game. They were 1st in red zone scoring efficiency, and ninth in offensive touchdowns. Marcus Mariota threw for 26 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. I’m leading with all of these stats because I’m trying to emphasize how good this offense can be in Mariota’s third year. Their offensive line is incredible, their power running game with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry is unmatched, and it’s going to be tough for NFL defenses to stop them from doing something special this upcoming season. Now, let’s get back to fantasy football.
We have to understand that the Titans are a heavy run-first team. When the Titans passed the ball, they were very efficient, and that was their formula: run, run, play-action, bootleg. They had the fifth fewest passing attempts in the league, but I do expect that to come up a bit as Mariota matures into a QB who can handle more responsibility. The Titans are helping speed up that process by surrounding him with weapons. Corey Davis and Eric Decker provide HUGE benefit to a young QB, not to mention his existing great rapport with Rishard Matthews. I think Corey Davis is a difference maker at receiver, and Decker will be a great red zone target for Mariota to keep those redzone efficiency numbers safe. Mariota loved throwing the ball to Murray as well, targeting him 67 times. With all of these new weapons at wide receiver, I don’t see Delanie Walker being as valuable anymore, and I think he’s being overdrafted in the late 7th round. This offense will go from good to great this year, and I think Corey Davis and Eric Decker become the more relevant receivers this year over Matthews, while Murray retains his workhorse role. Derrick Henry will get a few more touches than he did last year, but as long Murray is healthy, Murray is the guy they want on the field to keep this offense as high-powered as possible.
Los Angeles Chargers
We said this at the same time last year, but injuries plagued the Chargers right from the get. Keenan Allen went down for the season the first game last year, Danny Woodhead was sent to IR after the second game, and Branden Oliver was also out for the year before the season started as well. No one to complement Melvin Gordon led to him getting a ton of work, but his efficiency wasn’t that great; Gordon’s DVOA was down at the bottom with -8.7%. However, with Branden Oliver back in the mix and Rivers gushing over him, we should see Oliver get some of the work, increasing Gordon’s efficiency this year. With Keenan Allen back from injury, Mike Williams being drafted to possibly be a great redzone option for the Chargers, and the emergence of Tyrell Williams, the Chargers passing offense seems to be back to something that Rivers can work with. Williams is currently out with a back injury, but should be ready for training camp.
Keenan Allen should go back to being Rivers’ possession option. Allen has the potential to rack up 6-8 catches per game this year. He’s a great option in PPR, and has slid down draft boards a bit lately. He’s currently in the middle of the 3rd round, and I’m totally fine with him there. He’s not so much of an upside guy, but you can count on him to provide solid value throughout the season… unless he gets hurt again. I really like Mike Williams as a late round flier this year. If he plays a majority of the snaps, he has some real touchdown potential. Rivers knows how to hit those big receivers in the end zone; he’s been hitting Antonio Gates for touchdowns his whole career until he tied the all-time touchdown record for tight ends last year. Hunter Henry can also take a step forward this year, but won’t be a consistent fantasy option due to Gates still being in the mix. He’ll have his games, but I can’t depend on him on a weekly basis. I have a feeling that Tyrell Williams will stay on the field in three wide receiver sets because of the rapport he’s built with Rivers last year. He’s going at the end of the 10th round, and I think he’s someone you can pick up for cheap who can provide good fantasy value in this potentially high-powered offense. Hopefully with these weapons, Rivers can avoid throwing as many interceptions as he did last year.