Each year I do an article about all 32 teams and the one fantasy player to watch headed into the offseason, but we decided to change the format up a little bit this year. Instead the theme will be one question we have about every team heading into the off-season that we are interested to see how that issue is resolved. It will center on players and still have a fantasy angle to it, but we figure we can cover more players on each team if we do it that way.
Let us know what you think of the change. We will also be reformatting the website over the next month and taking a break until free agency starts. We cannot believe the 2016 season is over and we are looking forward to the break and to news coming back that will set the tone for the 2017 season.
Los Angeles Chargers – Can WR Keenan Allen return to health in 2017 and stay healthy for an entire season? Allen looked like he could be a star when he was the 18th ranked fantasy receiver his rookie season with 71 receptions for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns. He had a down year his second year and looked like he was going to emerge as a star in his third year. In eight games, he had 67 receptions for 725 yards and four touchdowns.
What has happened since then has been a football tragedy. He missed the rest of the 2015 season with a lacerated kidney. He tore his ACL in Week 1 this year and he was lost for the season. When he is healthy, he is their best receiver and he could be one of the ten best receivers in the league playing with QB Philip Rivers. Allen is reportedly already sprinting and he expects to be ready for training camp. If he his healthy, it is going to be fascinating where he goes in fantasy drafts. He is a very talented player that has had difficulty staying healthy.
Los Angeles Rams – Can Rams QB Jarred Goff progress into a competent NFL starter in 2017? He was among the most disappointing first overall picks in terms of rookie performance. He was not good enough to start in Week 1; no quarterback taken first overall failed to start the season opener since Oakland Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell back in 2007. That is not a list that you want to be on if you are a top overall pick, Russell is one of the biggest busts in the history of the NFL Draft.
Goff eventually did start and the results were not good. In his seven starts, the team went (0-7) and he was 112 for 205 with 1,089 yards, five touchdowns, seven picks and a QB rating of 63.6. He completed only 54.6 percent of his passes and he was sacked 26 times in 205 attempts or a sack percentage of 11.3 percent. If he is going to play like that, no Rams offensive player is going to be able to perform at a consistent level in fantasy. RB Todd Gurely and WR Tavon Austin are good players, but they need a competent quarterback if they are going to have a chance to realize their potential.
Miami Dolphins – Was RB Jay Ajayi a one-year wonder or a star running back in the making? Ajayi did something that few running backs in league history did when he rushed for 200 yards in back-to-back games. The only other running backs that were able to accomplish that feat were Buffalo Bills RB O.J. Simpson, Houston Oilers RB Earl Campbell and Miami Dolphins RB Ricky Williams. Ajayi finished with 1,423 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns. He was the 11th ranked running back in fantasy this year.
Ajayi is only turning 24-years old this year, so he is a young back coming off a very good season and many people will wonder if this was just a one-year flash in the pan or a consistent fantasy performer. Ajayi had three 200-yard games this year, but he also was not the starter to open the season and he was not even active in their first game at Seattle. He had nine games where he rushed for less than 60 yards and nine games where he failed to find the end zone. Miami will have a tougher schedule this year having made the playoffs in 2016, so it will be interesting to see how he handles this off-season and whether he will be able to improve his consistency in 2017. He should be one of the more debated players this off-season in fantasy football.
Minnesota Vikings – Can QB Teddy Bridgewater return from a horrific knee injury in 2017? Bridgewater is just 24-years old was preparing to be the starter in his third year when he was injured at practice during a non-contact drill on Aug. 30th. The result was a torn ACL and knee dislocation in his left knee. He missed the entire season and the Vikings do not know whether he will be ready for the start of the 2017 season. The Vikings are not even sure if he will ever be able to play again.
They need him to be able to play and play at a high level, because QB Sam Bradford is clearly not the answer at quarterback. While he did set a NFL record for completion percentage (71.6 percent), he also had only 3,877 yards passing, 20 passing touchdowns and five picks. He was just the 23rd ranked fantasy quarterback. The Vikings are likely going to move on from future Hall of Fame RB Adrian Peterson and they will need to be more pass oriented in 2017. It would be nice if the quarterback leading that offense were a healthy Bridgewater, not journeyman, Bradford.
New England Patriots – Can TE Rob Gronkowski still be an elite tight end after back surgery? Gronk could be the best tight end in the history of the NFL. In only 88 games, he has only 405 receptions for 6,095 yards and 68 touchdowns. To put that in perspective, San Diego Chargers TE Antonio Gates has played 204 games. He has 111 receiving touchdowns and he is tied with Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez for the most touchdowns by a tight end in league history. If Gronk continues to score 0.77 touchdowns per game and he plays 204 career games, he will finish with 157 touchdowns.
The problem is he may not be able to play more than 88 games the way he is going. Gronk continues to breakdown due to injury, he has only played eight games this year and he is coming off a serious bank surgery. He is only 28-years old, but it is scary using a first round pick on a guy coming off back surgery that may never be the same player or may never be able to stay healthy for any length of time. When he is right, he is capable of 1,300 yards and 15 receiving touchdowns, but it is a huge question mark given that back. It will be something to watch this season and it will be tough to know how well that back is doing given the Patriots history of sharing nothing.
New Orleans Saints – Will WR Brandin Cooks still be with the team in 2017 or will the New Orleans Saints look to trade him before the draft? When Cooks was on this year, he was on and among the most unstoppable receivers in the NFL. He had six receptions for 143 yards and two touchdowns in the opener against the Oakland Raiders, seven receptions for 173 yards and one touchdown in Week 6 against the Carolina Panthers and seven receptions for 186 yards and two touchdowns in Week 15 against the Arizona Cardinals.
The problem is that WR Michael Thomas passed him as the top receiver in this offense and Cooks openly complained about his role. He had a game against the Los Angeles Rams where he was not even targeted one time. He had two other games with less than 20 yards receiving. The Saints could have him play this year at the reasonable price of $781,599 and they could even pick up his option in 2018. They could also try to trade him and would likely receive a high draft pick for a 23-year old receiver with tons of upside. It will be interesting to see if they can work out the rift with him or if they end up dealing him at some point in the off-season. Depending on the quarterback situation where he lands and his overall attitude will determine his fantasy upside in 2017.
New York Giants – Is QB Eli Manning still a franchise quarterback? Manning was not terrible this year, but he was hardly a franchise quarterback. Despite playing with WR Odell Beckham Jr., he had only 4,027 yards passing, 26 passing touchdowns, 16 interceptions and a QB rating of 86.0.
It was not as bad as his 2013 season when he was the 22nd ranked fantasy quarterback, but it was not stellar. He was just the 21st ranked fantasy quarterback and he had nine games where he threw either no touchdowns or one touchdown. He failed to top 300 yards in 12 of his 16 games. If the Giants offense is going to have productive fantasy players, Manning needs to do more than he did in 2016. He just turned 36-years old in January and he has 6,825 career pass attempts. You have to wonder how much life is left in his arm at this point in his NFL career.
New York Jets – Is WR Brandon Marshall still a franchise wide receiver? This is a team that has a ton of issues on offense. RB Matt Forte is 31-years old and he averaged only 3.72 yards per carry. He is probably going to be back, but RB Bilal Powell finished the season strong and he could become the starter. They need to draft a quarterback, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will not be resigned and neither QB Bryce Petty nor QB Christian Hackenberg appears to be the answer. They will never have good consistent options on offense in fantasy football until they find a quarterback.
Marshall has to be the biggest question mark though. In 2015, Marshall had 109 receptions for 1,502 yards and a league-leading 14 touchdowns. This year, his production fell to 59 receptions for 788 yards and three touchdowns. Marshall says that he will not take a pay cut from the $7.5 million he is due. I can understand that, because he played with incompetent quarterback play and could decide that if he were going to play for an incentive heavy contract, he’d rather do it on a team with a legit quarterback. The million-dollar question is whether this was a case of a player playing with no quarterback or a player that is now 33-years old and declining. If he has not declined and he signs with the right team, he could be a steal in fantasy drafts in 2017.
Oakland Raiders – Is WR Amari Cooper a good wide receiver or a great wide receiver? Cooper was one of my favorite receivers coming out of college and he has not disappointed. In 2015, he was the 25th ranked fantasy receiver in 2016; he improved to the 12th ranked fantasy wide receiver in the NFL.
For as good as he has been, the one knock on him has been touchdown scores. Despite playing with QB Derek Carr, who is one of the better young quarterbacks in the NFL, Cooper has only 11 touchdowns over his first two seasons. Cooper is going to be entering his third year and there is still time for him to improve his game. He needs to be a double-digit touchdown threat if he is ever going to justify being taken in the first three rounds of fantasy drafts.
Philadelphia Eagles –Can QB Carson Wentz go from an average NFL starter to an elite NFL starter in his second season? Wentz had a great first four games, games in which he posted a 100.00 QB rating or better in three out of the four games. He never posted a rating higher than 100.000 after those games and he had eight games where he failed to top 80.00. He finished the season (7-9) in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. He had 379 completions in 607 attempts for 3,782 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and a QB rating of 79.3.
I think the Eagles have a player they can build around, but he is hardly guaranteed to be a superstar. He needs to continue to progress and be more comfortable running the offense. One thing that would help his progression is a star running back and a star receiver. WR Jordan Matthews, RB Ryan Mathews and TE Zach Ertz are good pieces, but they need more difference makers. A good off-season of development by Wentz and some additional weapons would go along way to making Wentz a late-round bargain at quarterback in fantasy drafts this year.
Pittsburgh Steelers – What will the Pittsburgh Steelers do with free agent RB Le’Veon Bell? The Steelers had a great offense this year, but when the offense went on a roll and won their final six regular season games and two postseason games, the key was feeding Bell the ball. He had 200 rushing attempts in his final eight games, which is an average of 25 times per game. If they allow him to leave in free agency, their offense would have a significantly different look in 2017. If he resigns here, he could be the first fantasy back selected in drafts, if he does not resign here, his value will depend on the offensive line and quarterback situation of his new team.
The Steelers are in between a rock and hard place. Bell has been one of the most efficient running backs in the league when healthy, but in their final game of the season the last three years, he has been unable to play with an injury. If they are going to give him the ball 25 times per game, he has to be healthy in January and February; otherwise they cannot rely on him to win the most important games of the year. He also has missed games for multiple suspensions under the substance abuse policy. He has said that he would like to be paid $15 million per year, which would be insane for a running back. The Steelers have to decide if they want to franchise him at an estimated $12 million, if they want to sign him to a long-term deal or if they want to go into the NFL Draft and find a replacement. Bell is an elite player and anytime those players become free agents, it is a huge question for their team in the off-season.
San Francisco 49ers – Will the San Francisco 49ers RB Carlos Hyde be the only competent NFL starter on the 49ers offense? This is one of the worst offensive units in the league, in terms of talent. They did not have a player that posted more than four receiving touchdowns last year and their best receiver was WR Jeremy Kerley. He posted 64 receptions for 667 yards or just 10.4 yards per reception. QB Colin Kaepernick is likely going to be released this off-season and the 49ers will likely go with a quarterback early in the NFL Draft.
About the only piece they have on offense to build around is Hyde. Hyde missed three games, but still tallied 1,151 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns. He had five fumbles and missed three games with injuries and he will have to work on ball security and durability if he is going to be an elite running back. A new coaching regime may be able to help him with that, but other than Hyde, there is not much to talk about with San Francisco on offense heading into this off-season other than Hyde.
Seattle Seahawks – Can the Seahawks spend money to upgrade their offensive line this off-season? Usually the big question is around a skill position player or quarterback, but the Seahawks are loaded with fantasy relevant players at the skill positions. The Seahawks have given their key defensive players and skill position players on offense massive extensions since they won the Super Bowl in the 2013 season. The result has been a Super Bowl appearance in 2014 and the Divisional Round in 2015 and 2016. The downside is that they have had no money to invest in the offensive line. They spend the least money on the offensive line in 2016 and it was more than 50 percent less than the 31st team in 2016, the Denver Broncos. It is impossible to field a quality offensive line on a little more than $6 million.
The Seahawks offense was terrible on the road. They had three games where they failed to score seven points. The Cleveland Browns were the 31st ranked scoring offense in the NFL and their season low was seven points and they scored less than 10 points only two times. A big reason is they had the 32nd ranked offensive line in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus.com. If the Seahawks offensive players are going to realize their full potential, this offensive line must improve in 2017.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Will RB Doug Martin still be the starting running back in Tampa Bay in 2017? If I were running the organization, I would cut bait and move on from Martin. It seems like it was a mistake to give him a big contract coming off a great season in a contract year. He had been hurt the two years prior and he went right back to being hurt. He will be suspended for the first three games of the 2017 season and Rotoworld.com reported back in December as a result of his failed drug test, the guaranteed money on his deal was voided, and the Bucs can void the deal with no cap consequences. That would seem like a good idea.
This offense needs an overhaul. WR Mike Evans is their only legit weapon in the passing game and TE Cameron Brate and WR Adam Humphries showed flashes of promise. They need to come away from free agency and the NFL Draft with some more weapons for Winston. It would also make sense to address running back, because Martin has not shown that he can stay healthy and at 28-years old they cannot rely on him to carry the load in 2017.
Tennessee Titans – Will DeMarco Murray still be the starting running back in Tampa Bay in 2017? Murray turns 29-years old this year, but is coming off a very solid season where he had 293 carries for 1,287 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. He also added 53 receptions for 377 yards and three touchdowns. He was the fourth ranked fantasy running back in the NFL this year and he has only 1,420 career carries. He should be primed to have another big season in Tennessee.
The only problem is the Titans took RB Derrick Henry early in the second round last year. Henry was impressive as a rookie, tallying 110 rushing attempts for 490 yards and five touchdowns. If Henry progresses in his second season, it is going to be hard to keep him off the field. I think the reality is that there is probably going to be more of a timeshare in 2017 and if Murray were to suffer an injury and Henry’s production was off the charts, all bets are off the rest of the year. Murray will have first round value playing behind an elite offensive line, but Henry is going to be the must-own handcuff of the 2017 season.
Washington – Who will be playing on offense in Washington in 2017? There are a lot of question marks with this team and that starts with QB Kirk Cousins. I think he would love to receive the franchise tag. CBS Sports.com believes he would receive roughly $23.94 million for the 2017 season and it would be fully guaranteed. He also would not be eligible for the franchise tag in 2018 and would hit the free agent market with a ton of teams competing for his services. He could absolutely break the bank in that scenario. That’s why I believe Washington will do everything possible to work out a long-term deal this off-season, but either way Cousins will be under center in Washington in 2017.
The question is who will be there with him. WR DeSean Jackson, WR Pierre Garcon and TE Vernon Davis were all key parts of this offense and all of them are free agents. It is possible that none of them will be with the team. It seems unlikely RB Matt Jones ever regains the trust of the coaching staff, so they could go with the committee of RB Rob Kelly and RB Chris Thompson or they could draft another running back. TE Jordan Reed and WR Jamison Crowder will be back in 2017 and they did use a first round pick on WR Josh Doctson. He played in only two games and he had two receptions for 66 yards. He battled an Achilles injury all season and he has still not been cleared to run. Washington was 12th in points scored and third in yards gained this year, but this offense could have a significantly different look in 2017, depending on what happens in free agency and the 2017 NFL Draft.