This weekend’s NFC playoff matchups feature four very fantasy relevant teams. The Falcons go up against the Eagles on Saturday and the Vikings take on the Saints on Sunday. What should we look for in these matchups and in these teams as we look forward to 2018’s fantasy draft?
Matt Ryan was a huge disappointment this year after a stellar year in 2016. It was an outlier year for Ryan, and the numbers for Atlanta were already unsustainable regardless, so we saw this coming for 2017. Ryan has had a 10-year career in the NFL and threw over 30 TDs twice in his career, and threw only 20 this past season. He shouldn’t be on anyone’s radar for 2018 unless you’re drafting him for upside very late in drafts.
Jones will likely come at a discount in 2018 drafts. The need to get him involved in the red zone is clear as day, as he totaled only 3 TDs in the entire regular season. He scored a red zone TD last week against the Rams, so he’s on the right track, even though that play wasn’t too traditional, and doesn’t seem like something replicable. Either way, look to see if they can get Julio working in the red zone against the Eagles, because if you can get him at a discount (probably later in first round) in this year’s draft, his upside would be worth taking him at that spot, especially in Steve Sarkisian’s second year as OC. Another red zone TD this week would give me more confidence that the team is working to rectify the problem.
Sanu’s involvement dropped in the two regular season games before their finale, but he bounced back with 11 targets against the Panthers in Week 17. We all know that Sanu is capable of having a big game, but I wouldn’t draw too much of a conclusion from his production this weekend either way. We don’t know what we are going to get from Sanu as a fantasy option on a weekly basis; he had 8 games this year under 50 yards and 9 games with 6 or less targets, but he salvaged some of those games with 5 TDs on the year. They do like to work him in the red zone a bit, but he is going to continue to be a bit of an inconsistent option for your fantasy team, and might be over-drafted if he does well during the playoffs, especially because he had a decent run in the middle of the season.
Tevin Coleman was used more in 2017 than he was in 2016, but he produced less for fantasy. This was expected, since he had some unsustainable numbers in the receiving game that year. He averaged 13.6 yards per catch, which is a ton for a RB, and that dropped to 11.1 this year, which was still good. He had 38 more carries this year, mostly due to Freeman missing a couple of games in the middle of the season. Coleman averaged around 10 touches per game when Freeman played, and that’s just not enough to rely on for fantasy production and for where Coleman was drafted this past year. It’s a good lesson to understand when numbers are sustainable, and if they seem like an outlier, they usually regress back to the mean. With Freeman involved next year, Coleman simply remains one of the best handcuffs in the league because of his 3-down potential. The good thing is that you can probably get him a bit cheaper next year to insure your high draft pick of Devonta Freeman.
We really want to see Freeman have a big workload this weekend against the Eagles, even against a stout run defense. One of the reasons why the Eagles were more of a stout run defense earlier in the year was because teams abandoned the run early against them to catch up. Now that the offense isn’t as stellar without Carson Wentz, Freeman has a chance to get some volume. There was some inconsistency as far as Freeman’s workload this season, but his involvement in the passing game kept his touches to about 17-18 a game. It’s a good number, but it doesn’t necessarily keep him in the first round of fantasy drafts next year. We want to see him get 20+ touches per game, but he’s only had that 5 times this year. If the Falcons get knocked out this week and Freeman has a rough game, you might be able to get him at a discount on the 2018 draft given all of the above. In a PPR league, his value should still be mid-2nd round.
Unfortunately, we’re not going to be able to draw too many conclusions about the Eagles pass-catchers with Nick Foles behind center. We have a pretty good sample size with Carson Wentz playing most of the year. Zach Ertz is the guy in this offense, and will be likely be drafted within the first few rounds.
Alshon Jeffery will probably be drafted a lot lower than he was this past year; he totaled 789 yards in 16 games, while totaling a little more than 800 yards over the last two seasons while only playing in 9 and 12 games, respectively. The offense will likely need a #1 WR to step up and be the guy, so Jeffery might be a good upside draft pick in the 5th round or so in Wentz’s third year and Jeffery’s second with the team. The rapport was evident in the second half of the year; Jeffery caught 7 TDs during an 8 game stretch after catching only 2 TDs in his first 7 games of the season.
Let’s look to see how involved Ajayi is in the offense against the Falcons. After averaging 7 carries in his first four games with the Eagles, he averaged 14 over the last four games of the regular season. Outside of looking at his workload, we need to pay attention to who the Eagles put in their backfield in the red zone. Is it going to be their red zone specialist Corey Clement, or will Ajayi be on the field some? His usage in the red zone in this game can be a huge indicator as to their plans for him, and will definitely affect his 2018 fantasy draft value. The offense should be great next season, but if he’s not used in the red zone, his upside will be severely capped.
The Saints are probably the most balanced team in the NFC, and remain the best bet in the NFC to make and win the Super Bowl, especially after the Eagles lost Carson Wentz. Michael Thomas didn’t provide the upside some were expecting this year, especially after only catching 5 TDs compared to his 9 last year. He’s going to remain a great 2nd round pick next year, as he’s been one of the most consistent options in the NFL at WR, especially in PPR leagues. Drew Brees didn’t throw over 600 attempts this year for the first time since 2009, and a huge part of that was because of the following two players.
Alvin Kamara/Mark Ingram
A lot of that had to do with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram making the run game the Saints’ bread and butter. Not much to draw from Ingram, but there’s a small chance he’s not with the team next year because of a low dead cap number if they cut him. Alvin Kamara, on the other hand, has been super efficient with his touches this season – Jamaal Charles-esque. He’s had 6.1 yards per carry without more than 12 carries in any game this season, but he’s caught 80 balls this season on top of that. Once Adrian Peterson left town, Kamara averaged 14 touches per game. Can he stay as efficient in 2018 with limited touch numbers and get 10+ TDs like he did this year? Let’s see if he can continue to get it done on a big stage. Outside of PPR leagues next year, I don’t think we can depend on the same type of fantasy production if Ingram is still around, as Kamara will probably be drafted too early. Either way, let’s see if the electrifying Kamara can still get it done in limited usage against a Vikings team that’s stout against RBs.
The backfield for the Vikings will look completely different next year with Dalvin Cook most likely back to a 3-down role, so Latavius Murray will be purely looked at as Cook’s handcuff. Jerick McKinnon will be a free agent this summer, so he likely won’t be back as the team’s third tailback. With Murray playing well, you might be able to snag him in later rounds to secure the Vikings backfield if you drafted Cook. This backfield is a good one to invest in, as the defense rarely puts the offense in one-dimensional mode. Check out this article to find out what to look for this weekend when it comes to Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs in 2018, as both of them will be sought out in early to mid-rounds, regardless of who is behind center. Apparently Kyle Rudolph’s ankle feels a lot better, so it’ll be good to see him back involved as a red zone option for Case Keenum; he can be a value at TE in 2018 drafts. As far as Keenum goes, he needs to put on a strong showing to be considered competition at QB for Teddy Bridgewater next year. The brass seems likely to hand Teddy the keys to the offense, but Keenum still has a chance to prove himself in these playoffs.