With the 2016 fantasy season largely in the books, let's take a (very) preliminary look at the top-20 players at each position, heading into next year, pending offseason signings and, of course, the draft:
Quarterback is deep as usual - I'd be surprised if there's much disagreement about who belongs in the top 14. Maybe people still like Stafford, but he was 14th in fantasy points per game this year, and I don't see his ceiling being much higher without more downfield throws. I put Tannehill, Wentz and Romo on the preliminary list over Eli Manning
, Andy Dalton
and Carson Palmer
even though if you offered me even money I'd take the omitted guys ahead of them. But in a one-QB league, it's all about upside, and Wentz could blow up in Year 2, Romo could have a last hurrah in the right situation and Tannehill, who I should probably give up on, is in a good spot with DeVante Parker
and Kenny Stills
running downfield and Adam Gase in charge of the offense. Then again, Matt Ryan
was basically Manning/Dalton last year, and he had plenty of ceiling, it turns out.
Notable omissions: Eli Manning
, Andy Dalton
, Carson Palmer
Running back is so top-heavy, it's going to topple over. The big three at the top are obvious, but the difference between the workhorses in the top-10 and the total crapshoots from 16-20 is stark. Paul Perkins
, Kenneth Dixon
, Tevin Coleman
? Are they even going to see enough touches? What do you do with Adrian Peterson
, Jamaal Charles
and Matt Forte
? (all omissions on my list.)
Notable omissions: Matt Forte
, Latavius Murray
, Jeremy Hill
, Bilal Powell
, Jamaal Charles
, Adrian Peterson
, Ryan Mathews
, Rob Kelley
, Eddie Lacy
, Ty Montgomery
, Jonathan Stewart
, Doug Martin
, Charles Sims
, Thomas Rawls
Usually, a top-20 list has players coming off career years, but so few of the best wideouts exceeded their draft-day projections (Nelson, Hilton, Baldwin, M. Thomas, Pryor and Adams.) I was a bit stingy with Nelson at No. 7, even though he was the best non-PPR wideout this year because he'll be 32, and I put Beckham over Brown because their volume is about the same, and the latter turns 29 in July. DeAndre Hopkins
and Allen Robinson
are on the list despite horrendous seasons - I have to think the quarterback play will get better simply through regression to the mean.
Notable omissions: Jarvis Landry
, Julian Edelman
, Kelvin Benjamin
, DeVante Parker
, Stefon Diggs
, Rishard Matthews
, Jamison Crowder
, Jordan Matthews
, Alshon Jeffery
, Cam Meredith, Brandon Marshall
, Larry Fitzgerald
, Adam Thielen
, Eric Decker
and Tyrell Williams
Tight end drops off severely after the top-14 or so. Or maybe it only seems that way to me. I added Austin Hooper
at 20 simply because I couldn't think of who else to pick. There are a few obvious breakout candidates in Hunter Henry
, Ladarius Green
and Eric Ebron
, but mostly the biggest question at the position is whether several of the top players (Gronkowski, Graham, Eifert and Reed) can stay on the field.
Notable Omissions: none I can think of.
Grading My Non-Obvious Predictions
Every year before Week 1, I make a bunch of "non-obvious" predictions. Let's see how I did:
1. The Giants will be a top-5 fantasy defense.
They were awful last year, but they get back a healthy Jason Pierre Paul for the full year, acquired Olivier Vernon (Pro Football Focus graded him like J.J. Watt over the second half, and Vernon's been a monster this preseason), added Damon Harrison to the interior line, drafted cornerback Eli Apple (strong camp) in the first round and signed (and overpaid) cornerback Janoris Jenkins. They also face Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott for three games and newly acquired Vikings QB Sam Bradford in Week 4 who will still be learning the offense.
They might have been top-five-ish in real life, but in fantasy they were middle of the pack (12th in one of my Yahoo leagues.) 0-1
2. The Buccaneers make the playoffs.
The defense is shaky, but Jameis Winston had a strong debut, and reports on him are excellent this offseason. I expect the offense to be top 10, and the Panthers, having lost Josh Norman and playing a first-place schedule, are likely to slip a good deal.
False. They had a shot as of a couple weeks ago, but fell short. 0-2
3. Jameis Winston or Kirk Cousins outscores Drew Brees.
These are my two favorite breakout QBs. I mentioned Winston above, but Cousins has some of the best weapons in the NFL if DeSean Jackson and Jordan Reed stay healthy, added a first-round pick to the receiving corps (Josh Doctson) and don't have much of a running game. Brees has drastic home/road splits (nine TD passes, six INT on the road last year), and draws both Denver and Seattle at home. In other words, he'll be an average QB at best in 10 of his 16 games.
They had decent years, but Brees killed them. 0-3
4. Frank Gore fails to get 700 rushing yards or seven TDs.
I simply don't get why people are drafting Gore in the top eight rounds, let alone the top six. He's 33 years old and slipped to 3.7 YPC last year, 3.2 YPC in the second half. Yes, the competition for carries is weak in Indy, but I'm pretty sure there are professional athletes of football-playing age vying for carries. Robert Turbin is only 26, ran a 4.42 40 at the combine and goes 5-10, 225, for example. When older backs lose it, they don't get it back. Indy is dumb enough to stick with Gore for a few games, but like they did with Andre Johnson's carcass last year, they'll ditch him once it's crystal clear he's done.
Gore had a solid year from start to finish and easily surpassed both numbers (964 rush yards, eight TD) with one game to go. 0-4
5. Julio Jones is not a top-10 WR.
This sounds more radical than it is as injuries and variance make most players underdogs to finish in the top-10 at their positions. That said, Jones' volume (203 targets) was so high, it assured him a top-five finish even if he weren't as efficient as he was. My reason for taking the under is the constant nagging injuries (already he's had ankle and knee injuries in camp), the way he seems hobbled after every other play and the lack of TDs over the last two years (14 on 366 targets.)
While Jones vastly underperformed his preseason projections, so did a lot of other wideouts, and he was still a top-five WR despite missing three games. 0-5
6. Doug Baldwin is not a top-25 WR.
I don't see the volume, red-zone volume or big-play ability. Last year's second half was a fluke.
Baldwin was the ninth best per-game WR in non-PPR. 0-6
7. At least two of these players will be top-25 WR:
Dorial Green-Beckham, Nelson Agholor, Phillip Dorsett, Sammie Coates, Devin Funchess, DeVante Parker, Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, Chris Conley or Stefon Diggs.
Year 2 is when WR typically break out, and these are all of the prominent ones (except for Amari Cooper who is too obvious.)
None were close even if Diggs and Parker sniffed those rankings at certain points. 0-7
8. At least one of the 49ers, Rams, Eagles, Chargers, Jaguars, Titans, Browns or Dolphins will make the playoffs.
This is an easy one as while all are underdogs individually, they're probably favorites collectively.
Verdict: True! Although I needed the Matt Moore
Dolphins to come through the last two weeks. 1-7
9. Devonta Freeman will outproduce Adrian Peterson in standard scoring leagues. He'll destroy him in PPR.
For whatever reason, Freeman is being massively discounted relative to last year's RB1-by-a-mile performance. Peterson's lack of receiving skills crushes him in PPR, and Freeman's extra receiving yards are an edge in standard.
The first easy win. 2-7
10. C.J. Anderson will be a top-seven back for as long as he stays healthy.
Anderson was 14th in non-PPR on a per-game basis. 2-8
11. Blake Bortles will again be a top-seven fantasy QB.
Bortles is actually No. 8 in total points in leagues that don't deduct for picks, and he could easily pass Philip Rivers
for seventh this week. But as the fantasy season is over for most, and Bortles was so bad for large stretches, this has to count as a miss. 2-9
12. Derek Carr will not be a top-15 fantasy QB on a per-game basis (minimum 8 games.)
Verdict: Arguably True.
I'm going to give myself a tie on this one as he clocks in at 17th in the site's scoring system
, though I'm pretty sure that doesn't account for interceptions in which case he'd move up several spots. 2-9-1
13. DeAndre Washington will outproduce Latavius Murray in the season's second half.
Washington outproduced Murray in Week 16, but that was about it. 2-10-1
14. Derrick Henry will outproduce DeMarco Murray in the second half.
Henry had his occasional moments, but DeMarco Murray
was a monster. 2-11-1
15. Christine Michael will outproduce Thomas Rawls.
This wasn't what I had in mind, but I'll take it. 3-11-1
16. Dorial Green-Beckham will outproduce Tajae Sharpe.
I used these two because Sharpe's surprise emergence likely in part led to Green-Beckham's dump trade. I'm fading the Titans' talent evaluators here.
Neither did much, and I'd still much rather have Green-Beckham, but the Eagles didn't use him enough, 3-12-1
17. Andrew Luck will outproduce Aaron Rodgers for fantasy purposes.
Not even close. 3-13-1
18. Markus Wheaton will be a top-25 PPR receiver.
With Le'Veon Bell out three games, Ladarius Green at least six and Sammie Coates not stepping up, Wheaton is the clear No. 2 target in a pass-happy offense.
Verdict: LOL. 3-14-1.
19. Colin Kaepernick will outproduce Blaine Gabbert.
The protest has drawn more heat to him than playing ever could. When Gabbert fails, Kaepernick will step in and not be rattled. Plus, his running is the perfect fit for Chip Kelly's offense.
Verdict: True. 4-14-1
20. Some of these predictions will turn out to be wrong.
You might think that last one is cheating, but it comes at a cost: I can never go 20 for 20. Total: 5-14-1.
Here's a link to last year's results
Week 16 Observations
• Sammy Watkins
finally proved he's all the way back. Now you can use him in Week 17! Receivers are hard to peg even when healthy, and sometimes you just have to gamble. I'm sure many did not given his Week 15 dud.
So it turns out the tight end to own in the playoffs was Charles Clay
It's amazing the Dolphins survived perfectly well with Matt Moore
and are headed to the playoffs now. They did have an assist from Rex Ryan who made two astonishingly bad calls in overtime, one the sweep to Reggie Bush
that lost eight yards after the Bills had driven deep into Dolphins territory, and the other punting on 4th-and-2 from their 41 with four minutes left , i.e., playing for a tie even though a tie would officially eliminate them from the playoffs. Accordingly, Ryan was canned Tuesday, and the only surprising part is that the Bills didn't do it over the loudspeaker during Miami's final drive.
• Jay Ajayi
rushed for another 200-plus yards against the Bills, making him 60 for 420 and two TDs against them on the year, at seven yards per carry. I haven't looked it up, but I'd bet he's the only player to go for 200-plus twice against the same team in the same season.
The Tyrod Taylor
situation is bizarre. Taylor is due $27.5 million in guarantees on March 11 if the Bills keep him, but apparently there's a clause in his contract that also triggers the guarantee in the event he's unable to pass a physical on that date. The Bills are playing it safe, benching him for Week 17, so they can get out of paying him if they so choose. While they could conceivably still retain him, that they would so far as to start EJ Manuel
to preserve the option makes it seem like Taylor's gone.
After a dud that knocked many of his owners out of the playoffs in Week 15, Kirk Cousins
rubbed it in with two rushing TDs and 30 yards on the ground in addition to 270 yards passing and another TD Sunday.
• Matt Barkley
is an interesting wild card for next year, but he's now had eight picks in his last two games.
I'd bet the Chargers are the first team in NFL history to lose with a plus-nine sack differential. And losing to an 0-14 team on blocked and missed FGs on the game's final two drives is simply who the Chargers are as a franchise. There's no point in analyzing or critiquing it. Acceptance is the only rational course here.
The only skill player of note was Antonio Gates
who got one score closer to the tight-end record. He now trails Tony Gonzalez 111 to 110.
• Aaron Rodgers
had another monster game, shredding what was left of the once stout Vikings defense. Jordy Nelson
's big game puts him as the top non-PPR WR, barely outpacing Antonio Brown
. In PPR Nelson clocks in at No. 2, not bad for a 31-year old coming off an ACL tear.
• Adam Thielen
and Sam Bradford
provided impressive bench and waiver wire scoring in many leagues. Thielen is an interesting prospect for next year – he's 6-2 and runs a 4.49 40, though Stefon Diggs
and Kyle Rudolph
will also have significant roles on what has traditionally been a run-first, defensive-oriented team. Maybe it's time to open it up and see if Teddy Bridgewater
can become more than game manager.
I can't imagine how much money Vegas has lost on the 12-3 ATS Patriots this year. The line in the Jets game was 16.5, and I have to think the public would have (correctly) been on the Pats up to 20 at least.
• LeGarrette Blount
has 17 TDs in 15 games. He still has more non-PPR points than any receiver.
• Tom Brady
and Matt Ryan
are the two MVP finalists. Brady didn't need to do much Sunday, but still managed three TD passes, giving him 25, one more than Cousins in four fewer games.
• Cam Newton
completed 18 of 43 passes. I faded the Panthers last Monday night in Washington because I thought they had checked out, and when I finally backed them at home against the Falcons, it looks like they actually did.
• Julio Jones
had his first game since Week 1 with more than 35 and fewer than 106 receiving yards.
• Marcus Mariota
broke his fibula, but barring a late-game comeback, the Titans were done for the year anyway.
There's the Blake Bortles
and Allen Robinson
you drafted! Timing, in life, is everything.
• Derek Carr
's broken leg is far most costly than Mariota's, obviously, with the Raiders vying for a first-round bye. It looks like Matt McGloin
will be starting the Raiders first playoff game since the Super Bowl loss to the Bucs 14 years ago.
• Todd Gurley
scored a TD, but even the 49ers defense couldn't free him – Gurley averaged only 2.9 YPC on his 23 chances.
The Saints-Bucs game went more or less by the book except that Mark Ingram
scored twice on the ground, and Drew Brees
had only one TD through the air. Mike Evans
, Brandin Cooks
and Michael Thomas
had their usual games.
• Doug Martin
was a healthy scratch, apparently because the team wanted Peyton Barber
on special teams. But instead of Charles Sims
getting extra work, it was Jacquizz Rodgers
. It was strange behavior from a team that just extended Martin with $15 million guaranteed last offseason.
• David Johnson
cracked 100 yards for the 15th straight game and scored three touchdowns. He's this year's fantasy MVP, despite a first-round price tag, and it's not especially close.
• Russell Wilson
won teams some championships going 350 and four, while rushing for 36 more yards, and Doug Baldwin
had 171 and a TD receiving. Carson Palmer
was highly efficient in Seattle, didn't throw a pick and took only one sack. The Seahawks are looking suspect heading into the playoffs.
I didn't watch the Texans-Bengals, and I have nothing to say about it except it's fitting the AFC South winner got in on a missed FG.
The Steelers-Ravens was exactly to form with the Steelers winning by half a point less than the Vegas line, Ben Roethlisberger
having a good game at home, Le'Veon Bell
getting his, Antonio Brown
catching 10 balls and Joe Flacco
spreading the ball around to nine different receivers, none of whom reached 80 yards. Also the indecipherable Kenneth Dixon
/Terrence West split persisted with West now assuming the pass-catching duties.
Like everyone else, the Chiefs couldn't throw outside on Denver, but why bother when Tyreek Hill
has a 70-yard TD run, Alex Smith
has a 24-yard TD run and Travis Kelce
does the heavy lifting over the middle?
• Demaryius Thomas
, Emmanuel Sanders
and Trevor Siemian
were complete no-shows, and Denver's running game, as usual, was non-existent.
I loved the TD pass from Dontari Poe
with less than two minutes left in the game. At 346 pounds, he had to have set the record for heaviest person ever to throw a TD. That's an under-appreciated record and one that may stand the test of time.
The difference between Dak Prescott
(10.6 YPA, 3 TDs, no picks) and Matt Stafford (5.7 YPA, zero TDs, one pick) was stark. And this was a game where Dallas had nothing for which to play.
• Zach Zenner
was the story of the first half, with two TDs, two catches for 25 yards and 67 yards rushing by game's end. But the Lions were shut out in the second half and Zenner with them. It's hard to get a read on the Lions backfield week to week, let alone when the oft-injured Ameer Abdullah
returns next year.
The Cowboys were a team of their word when they said they'd play their starters. While Ezekiel Elliott
had only 12 carries, he racked up 80 yards and two more scores. And Prescott and Dez Bryant
(two TD catches, one TD pass) played virtually the entire game.
• Eric Ebron
was banged up for much of the year, but he's a key weapon in the Lions' dink and dunk passing attack. He has top-five upside if he ever stays upright for 16 games.
• Darren McFadden
saw 14 ineffective carries in garbage time – don't be surprised to see him get another decent workload in Week 17.
As a Giants fan, I should root for the Lions next week at home against the Packers, but the NFC playoffs would be much better with Green Bay – who could win the Super Bowl – than Detroit who has no chance.