Houston Texans (9-7; 1st in AFC South)
Brock Osweiler – Where do we even begin? After an abysmal season in which Osweiler barely managed to look competent in even routine situations, Houston will likely look elsewhere at the quarterback position for 2017 and beyond. Unfortunately, from a salary cap perspective, the Texans have no option but to actually keep Osweiler on their roster for the upcoming season. Brock Osweiler’s contract for 2016 and 2017 was essentially a fully guaranteed $37 million, with an additional $16M in base salary and a $3M roster bonus guaranteed in 2017. This leaves Houston with $19M in dead money on the line in 2017 on just one contract, rendering Osweiler all but stuck on Houston’s roster. No team is going to pick up Osweiler’s exorbitant salary. While Osweiler’s guaranteed salary is wholly atrocious from a roster construction stand-point—11% of Houston’s overall cap is tied up in Osweiler’s contract alone—the Texans still have to bring in outside help to compete with Osweiler and Tom Savage in camp. After Osweiler finished his first full season as a starter third-from-last in touchdown percentage and second-from-last in adjusted yards per attempt (only Jared Goff was worse), Houston has no other option but to swallow Osweiler’s price tag and try to move on in 2017 before they fully cut the cord in 2018. Unless Houston can find an extremely creative way to restructure Osweiler’s guarantees in 2017, they are on the hook for one of the worst NFL contracts of all-time.
Tom Savage – Well, the one glaring upside here for the Texans is that Savage’s contract looks like chump change compared to Brock Osweiler’s deal. Savage will be on the last leg of his rookie deal in 2017 before he is an unrestricted free agent in 2018. Luckily for him, Tom Savage should have an opportunity to compete for the Texans’ starting job in 2017. Brock Osweiler face-planted in his first full season as a starter and was benched in favor of Savage in the final month of the season. Unluckily for Savage, however, he suffered a concussion in Week 17 against Tennessee and did not start in either of the Texans’ two playoff games versus Oakland and New England. While Savage averaged 7.2 and 6.1 adjusted yards per attempt in his two full starts, Osweiler managed just 5.0 adjusted yards per attempt on his 510 attempts in 2016. Of course Savage gets the benefit of a small sample, but his short-term numbers and short-term tape is undoubtedly better than Osweiler’s product. Look for Houston to give Savage an opportunity to compete for the starting job this summer alongside Osweiler and likely a third option that is not currently on the roster. GM Rick Smith will do everything he can to try and fix the Osweiler blemish.
Lamar Miller – Dealing with multiple injuries in 2016 (ribs, ankle, shoulder), it is fair to say Lamar Miller’s first campaign as an NFL-lead back was a bit disappointing. In fairness, though, Miller did not have much help. The Texans finished the year second-to-last in yards gained per play (4.71), right ahead of the Rams (4.42) for the league’s worst honors. Once more, because of shoddy quarterback play from Brock Osweiler, Miller struggled to get into the paint in 2016. Miller scored just five rushing touchdowns on 268 carries in 14 games, largely because Houston struggled to get the ball in close often. Houston finished the regular season 19th in plays per game inside of the opponents 10-yard line (4.19). In any case, even though it feels like Lamar Miller has been in the league forever, he is still just 25-years-old and likely has two to three more years in his prime. Miller’s 2017 salary ($5.5M) is fully guaranteed and the Texans have him locked up through 2019 on a fairly team-friendly deal. Even though Miller’s RB18 (points/game) finish in 2016 was disappointing, he may be a decent buy at his ADP this summer. Houston’s quarterback situation can’t get any worse.
Alfred Blue – Largely working as a change-of-pace back to Lamar Miller (when he was healthy), Blue is likely locked into a similar role in 2017. Alfred Blue is nothing special as a runner and he is best categorized as just a grinder, but he did unquestionably unseat rookie Tyler Ervin and receiving-back Jonathan Grimes as Houston’s No. 2 in 2016. Blue finished the year playing on 235 snaps to Grimes’ 175. Blue largely has very little appeal in all fantasy formats in 2016, as he has one year left to serve on his rookie deal before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2017. As weird as it may seem, Blue and Lamar Miller are the same age (25) even though Miller has played two more pro seasons than Blue.
Tyler Ervin – Even though the Texans spent a fourth-round pick on Ervin (119 overall), Houston essentially red-shirted him in his rookie year. Ervin played just 26 snaps in 2016 and received one carry all year long. Tyler Ervin dealt with a ribs injury in the middle of the year that may have cost him a few games, but he was a healthy-scratch a number of times in 2016. All three of Alfred Blue, Jonathan Grimes, and even Akeem Hunt supplanted Ervin on the depth chart one way or another. Ervin was an explosive player coming out of San Jose State, forcing missed tackles left and right. Even though he never saw the field in 2016, he is a dirt-cheap buy in deep dynasty formats. Ervin could come into 2017 camp and win the Texans’ No. 2 job behind Lamar Miller.
Jonathan Grimes: After functioning as the Texans’ passing down back in 2016—he saw only 23 carries and 18 targets—Grimes may not be back with Houston in 2017. Jonathan Grimes signed a one-year deal for 2016 after his undrafted free agent contract expired at 2015’s end. He’s an unrestricted free agent heading into the offseason. Houston could bring Grimes back to compete in camp, but he’ll have to earn a roster spot. Alfred Blue and second-year man Tyler Ervin will also be in the mix for Houston’s No. 2 running back duties.
DeAndre Hopkins – Largely one of the biggest first round busts of the year, Hopkins regressed significantly with bad B.O. under center. After exploding for 111/1,521/11 in 2015 with a mish-mosh of ugly quarterback options, Hopkins faltered to 78/954/4 in 2016. DeAndre Hopkins averaged just 59.6 yards/game in 2016, after eclipsing 75.6 and 95 YPG in his two prior seasons. Hopkins’ average depth of target downfield was down well past career data points, too. Hopkins’ average target downfield was just 12.4 yards in 2016, a full yard fewer than his previous career-low (13.4 in 2014). After two excellent WR18 and WR5 finishes (points per game) in 2014 and 2015, Hopkins’ WR35 finish was a major disappointment. Obviously Brock Osweiler’s unbelievably poor play had a major hand in Hopkins’ fall from elite grace. Among the 30 receivers to see seven or more targets per game, only 59% of Hopkins’ targets were deemed “catchable” per PFF. That was the fifth-lowest rate in the league. As a reference point, 63% of Hopkins’ targets were deemed “catchable” in 2015. While Hopkins ran the seventh-most routes/game (38.4) in 2016, he finished just 52nd in fantasy points per route run. We obviously know Hopkins’ ceiling is immense, but Houston will have to try and solve their quarterback problem for him to realize it. Brock Osweiler is simply not the answer. Hopkins will be on the final year of his rookie deal in 2017. Houston exercised the fifth-year of Hopkins’ deal in April 2016 and he is set to make just under $8M before he is an unrestricted free agent in 2018.
Will Fuller – After dropping 5/107/1, 4/104, 3/31, and 7/81/1 to start the year, Fuller fell off of the face of the earth during the remainder of his rookie year. Fuller started the year absolutely red-hot and had to battle through lower-leg injuries (hamstring) during the middle of the year. Even once he got fully healthy to close out the year, Will Fuller had just 22, 42, 39, 24, 37, and 16 receiving yards in his final six contests. Fuller’s speed gives him lid popping ability, but to really hit a consistent ceiling in both fantasy and real life, he has to track the ball better in the air and catch routine passes with more regularity. Drops and inconsistent routes were one of Fuller’s biggest knocks coming out of Notre Dame and those issues definitely popped up often in his rookie campaign. It’s worth wondering to what end Fuller’s leg injuries this year hampered him, while there is no denying Brock Osweiler’s shoddy play crushed Fuller on some weeks. Fuller could be a fun late-round dart in MFL10 (best-ball) formats this summer if his price is right. We know Fuller will have monster ceiling weeks, but they may prove to be difficult to predict.
Braxton Miller – After battling through a hamstring injury that cost him two games and a shoulder injury that eventually ended his season, Miller’s rookie campaign was less-than-stellar. Even when he was active and healthy, Miller played over 80% of Texans’ snaps just three times and only played on 54% of possible snaps when he was available. Braxton Miller did define his role a bit in 2016, running 67% of his routes from the slot – but he only caught 10 balls for 56 yards on his 154 slot routes. As a third-round pick, Miller has the athletic ability and short area quickness to be a solid slot receiver in the NFL, but he likely won’t have much fantasy relevance in 2017 even if Houston brings in a new signal-caller that is not named Brock Osweiler.
Jaelen Strong – A 2015 third-round pick, Strong has had a rough start to his career. Jaelen Strong struggled with his weight and conditioning in 2015-16, was popped for marijuana possession in February 2016, and landed on season-ending I.R. at the end of the 2016 regular season (ankle). Strong has just 28 career receptions to his name and has never eclipsed 60 yards receiving in a single game. Provided his offseason recovery from ankle surgery goes to plan, Strong will compete with Braxton Miller for the Texans’ lead slot duties in 2017. Strong ran 69% of his routes from the slot in 2016. It looks like the 2017 will be make-or-break time for Strong’s chances in the NFL.
C.J. Fiedorowicz – Even though Fiedorowicz is coming off of his career-best season, it’s still hard to get excited about any ancillary pieces in Houston’s current offense. While C.J. Fiedorowicz served as Brock Osweiler’s binky in 2016, the Texans are all but guaranteed to move on from Osweiler in 2017. They can’t cut Osweiler due to his absurd contract, but they can look elsewhere for their signal-caller. Now, Fiedorowicz would likely stand to benefit from a quarterback change in 2017 – but there are a few things that are up in the air to begin the offseason. First and foremost, teammate Ryan Griffin – who was routinely a thorn in Fiedorowicz’s weekly ceiling – is an unrestricted free agent. Houston could definitely bring Griffin back in 2017 and beyond, but it is certainly a situation worth monitoring. Fiedorowicz saw 89 targets in 2016 while Griffin saw 74. If Griffin is indeed allowed to walk, Fiedorowicz may be a decent late-round tight end that is set up to see north of 100 targets in 2017. As a combined unit, the Texans’ tight end corps went for 104/1001/6 receiving (240 PPR points) in 2016. As a reference point, Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin’s 240 combined PPR points in 2016 would have been good enough to finish as the TE1 in 2016, TE4 in 2015, and TE2 in 2014 in cumulative output. Fiedorowicz’s rookie deal expires at 2017’s year-end.
Ryan Griffin – After catching just 49 career passes in his first three seasons, Griffin rose to an increased role in 2016. Ryan Griffin blasted past his previous career highs, going for 50/442/2 in 2016 alongside teammate C.J. Fiedorowicz (54/559/4). Both Griffin and Fiedorowicz served as safety nets to mask Brock Osweiler’s incompetency throwing outside of the numbers. While Griffin is undoubtedly coming off of his best season as a pro, he is slated to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Per Houston Chronicles Aaron Wilson, it remains to be seen whether or not Griffin is back with Houston in 2017 and beyond. If Griffin is back in Houston, it will undoubtedly hamper both C.J. Fiedorowicz’s and Griffin’s own fantasy ceiling. After a career-best season, Griffin could test the market’s water to see if he can get a good deal with a better offense.
Indianapolis Colts (8-8; 3rd in AFC South)
Andrew Luck – Despite former-GM Ryan Grigson’s best “effort”, it appears that the Colts’ franchise quarterback has a shot to stay healthy in the coming years. Despite the fact he has to recover from shoulder surgery because of the Colts’ disregard for pass protection, Andrew Luck has been exactly what the Colts’ organization was hoping for and more since 2012. Unfortunately, everything else – coaching, lack of depth at every position, a poor running game, and an abysmal offensive line – has troubled Indianapolis. Grigson getting canned was well overdue, but the Colts severely need to rebuild their offensive line as soon as the new GM is hired. Outside of LG Jack Mewhort, the rest of the Colts’ interior linemen were a disaster in 2016. Per PFF, RG Denzelle Good, G Jonotthan Harrison, and G/T Joe Haeg all graded out in the bottom-12 in pass protection during the regular season. Their tackle play was not much better. Anthony Castanzo was the lone stalwart at left tackle, but he graded out near league average in pass protection per PFF. RT Joe Reitz was an unmitigated disaster. Reitz was dead last – by a mile – in PFF’s Pass Blocking Efficiency among 74 qualified offensive tackles. Grigson’s lack of imagination, scouting, and investment along the offensive line was staggering. Despite having an all-world talent at quarterback, the Colts only spent 13% of their 2016 cap space on offensive linemen. 17 teams in the league allocated more cap space in their trenches. It’s simply amazing that Luck threw for over 4,240 yards, posted his best YPA ever (7.8), and still posted a QB5 (points/game) finish in spite of all of the Colts’ issues across the board. Luck arguably had his best year yet while getting sacked on 7.0% of his attempts, by far the highest rate of his career. After five years, numerous injuries, and one shoulder surgery to show for it – the Colts finally appear ready to move on from Grigson’s shadow and seriously invest in their line. If the Colts field an average offensive line in 2017, Luck will have a monster fantasy season. Luck has finished as the QB8, QB2, QB10, and QB5 in points per game since his rookie year and could absolutely explode under the right climate. Hopefully he’ll get his chance in 2017 and beyond.
Frank Gore – Despite the fact that he’ll be 34-years-old this May, Gore just keeps plugging along. Gore rushed for 1,025 yards in 2016, becoming the third player since the 1970 merger to rush for over 1,000 yards at 33-years of age or older. Prior to reaching the 1,000-yard milestone in 2016, only John Riggins (twice) and Franco Harris had previously done so. Frank Gore is the quintessential NFL iron-man and has now played an unprecedented six straight full 16-game seasons. What’s most impressive, however, is since Gore recorded his ninth season with 1,000 rushing yards, he joined an all-time list of rushers that are all hall-of-famers. Only Emmitt Smith (11), Curtis Martin, Walter Payton, and Barry Sanders (10) currently have more 1,000-yard rushing seasons than Frank Gore. He’ll be the ripe age of 34 in 2017, but Gore still has one year left on his deal with the Colts. Indianapolis will have to either draft or sign more depth this offseason, but Gore still has an unbelievable track record for as many seasons as he has played. It’s possible 2016 was his final season a starter, but it’s still staggering that Gore has finished as a RB2 or better (top-24) in 11 straight seasons. He’s simply had an amazing run.
Josh Ferguson – Mainly just a pass catching back out of Illinois, Ferguson was supremely disappointing in his rookie year. The 2016 Colts had one of the league’s shallowest backfields, and had Ferguson played better, he could have earned a bigger role. Instead, Ferguson ended his season with just 20 receptions (136 yards) and 15 carries (20 yards). Josh Ferguson will likely have to fight for his roster spot in 2017. He’s not a recommended stash in dynasty.
Robert Turbin – Even though he hilariously vultured touchdowns from Frank Gore in 2016, Turbin is still just a journeyman NFL-talent. At 27-years-old, Turbin has been on four different NFL squads and has scored eight career touchdowns, seven of which came in 2016 with the Colts. The Colts will likely re-vamp their entire backfield for the 2017 season, meaning Turbin is a long shot to stay in Indy. He’ll likely have to find new digs once again this summer. Turbin has never seen more than 80 carries in a season.
T.Y. Hilton – Another year down, and another fantastic season for T.Y. Hilton with Andrew Luck is in the books. After Luck missed almost half of the 2015 season due to injury, Hilton re-emerged as a strong low-end WR1 in 2016. In two full years with Luck as the starter in 2016 and 2014, Hilton has finished as the WR8 and WR11 in PPR points per game. Hilton averaged 91 and 90 receiving yards/game in those two seasons and caught well over five balls per game in each year. Donte Moncrief’s various injuries in 2016 only added to Hilton’s yardage and touchdown ceiling. When Moncrief was out of the lineup (seven total games), Hilton averaged 19.84 PPR points per day versus 14.8 points/game with Moncrief. For what it is worth, Antonio Brown led all receivers in PPR points/game (20.5) in 2016. When Moncrief missed time, Hilton essentially zipped up from a low-end WR1 to nearly the fantasy WR1 on a weekly basis. Still only 27-years-old, Hilton is entering his prime-age production in 2017. As long as Andrew Luck stays upright and healthy, Hilton should continue to post WR1 (top-12) seasons well into the next few seasons. While Donte Moncrief’s role as a red-zone threat ultimately crashes some of Hilton’s overall touchdown ceiling, Hilton is among an elite core of receivers to average over 89.5 yards/game in the past seven years. Since 2010, there have been only 29 occurrences where a wideout has averaged over 89.5 YPG in a single-season. Hilton is one of just seven receivers to hit the 90-yard milestone more than once in that span. Hilton will be a no-brainer late-second, early-third round pick in 2017 re-draft and best-ball leagues.
Donte Moncrief – After getting a ton of hype this summer, Moncrief had a fairly pedestrian 2016 season. Plagued by injuries that limited him to just nine games played, Moncrief averaged just 34.1 yards per game in 2016, even though he caught a career-high seven scores. In the seven healthy games he completed – Moncrief left Week 2 early with a fractured scapula and Week 14 with an injured hamstring – he eclipsed 50 yards receiving just one time and his longest reception went for just 33 yards. Moncrief finished up the 2016 season 45th in fantasy points per route run (0.348) and has now posted back-to-back years as the WR46 in PPR points per game. While Moncrief was labeled as a big-play threat out of college, he really has lacked any sort of pop over the last two years. Moncrief’s yards per target average has slipped in every single year (9.7 > 7.3 > 5.7) while his yards after the catch average (6.7 > 4.1 > 2.5) has fallen off of the face of the earth, too. Perhaps all of the injuries took a toll this year, but there is no denying Moncrief’s on-field product needs to improve dramatically in year-four. Moncrief has been nothing more than a pedestrian WR3/4 when he is playing with Luck and is fully healthy. After largely being a fifth-round pick in 2016, Moncrief is sure to come at a far cheaper price in 2017 leagues.
Phillip Dorsett – Through two full seasons, 2015 first-round pick Phillip Dorsett is averaging a robust 2.0 receptions and 29.0 yards per game to start his career. Despite the fact the Colts desperately needed offensive line help, now former-GM Ryan Grigson thought it wise to spend the 29th overall pick in 2015. It hasn’t paid off yet. Donte Moncrief was plagued by injuries all year long and Andrew Luck desperately needed Dorsett to set up when Moncrief was out. Instead, Dorsett still only caught 2.19 passes for 39.2 yards per game when Moncrief missed six contests this season. Dorsett certainly has game-breaking speed, but he has simply not been the playmaker he was drafted to become. Because of his lackluster performance when given the opportunity, Dorsett seems destined to be a gadget player during his career. Unless he can become more physical off of the line of scrimmage and add some nuance to his game, Dorsett will remain off of the fantasy radar.
Chester Rogers – An undrafted free agent out of Grambling State, Rogers caught 19 passes for 273 scoreless yards in 2016. Anytime an undrafted, small-school receiver makes it in the NFL -- let alone plays significant snaps in his rookie year -- it is a major accomplishment. Still, Chester Rogers is a 6-foot-tall, 185lbs No. 4 receiver with middling athleticism. Hilariously, Rogers posted better cumulative rookie season numbers (14 games, 19/273 on 34 targets) than first-round pick Phillip Dorsett did in 2015 (11 games, 18/225/1 on 39 targets), albeit with three more games played. Rogers is a good story of a long-shot player making a name for himself, but the Colts desperately need more depth at receiver.
Dwayne Allen, Jack Doyle, and Erik Swoope – Even though no AFC South team had a tight end finish inside of the the top-10 scorers in cumulative points, Indianapolis had the TE1 (109/1,287/12) in PPR points/game while Houston’s tight ends were 6th in points per contest (115/1,094/7). That is right. If we rolled up Dwayne Allen (35/406/6), Jack Doyle (59/584/5), and Erik Swoope’s (15/297/1) production together, we’d get a robust 19.4 PPR points/game. The best tight end season since 2010 is owned by Rob Gronkowski (20.7 points/game in 2011; meaning Colts’ tight ends combined for the second-best tight end season of the past seven years in 2016. Of course, it is easy to combine counting stats for each position into one whole number—It’d surely make fantasy football easier—but there is no denying Andrew Luck loves to get his tight ends involved, no matter who they are. Even Coby Fleener posted a pair of top-15 scoring years in 2013 and 2014. In seriousness, though, the Colts really could have one of the most tight end friendly fantasy options in the league if they just decided to roll with one main tight end. For what it’s worth, Jack Doyle clearly led the way among Colts’ tight end trio in 2016. Doyle led both Allen and Swoope in top-12 (TE1) scoring weeks (Doyle: 5; Allen: 3; Swoope: 1), snaps (68%; 64%; 22%), and targets (75; 52; 22). Now, with all of this being said, Jack Doyle is currently headed towards unrestricted free agency in the next few months. Dwayne Allen signed a four-year deal last offseason. Before getting axed, former-GM Ryan Grigson went out of his way to mention that Doyle should be re-signed. Obviously those plans may be different since the Colts are in the market for a new GM. Doyle will turn just 27-years-old in May and, in all likelihood, will be back in Indy for 2017 on a mid-range deal. The Colts’ tight end situation is a sneaky one to track this offseason.
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13; 4th in AFC South)
Blake Bortles – The true garbage-time king himself, there is not sufficient words to describe Bortles’ play in 2016. While Bortles did end up finishing as the cumulative QB14 in fantasy points, his route to a decent finish was mired in poor play. Even though Blake Bortles is exiting his third pro season, he can’t routinely read Cover-2 defenses, he locks on to one receiver too often, and misses routine passes. Other than that, everything is fine. After posting a strong 5.8% touchdown rate – largely fueled by fourth-quarter scores—Bortles’ TD rate in 2016 regressed to a paltry 3.7%. Bortles’ main efficiency metrics—adjusted yards per attempt, fantasy points per drop back, and net yards per attempt—all crashed back down to earth. Jacksonville is now at a point where they have to consider bringing in outside competition through free agency or the draft. New HC Doug Marrone and Executive VP Tom Coughlin will voice their support for Bortles all offseason, but there is no denying he was a bottom-5 starter in the league in 2016. Per PFF, Bortles’ quarterback rating while under pressure was worse than the enigmatic Brock Osweiler. Also per PFF, Bortles’ quarterback rating when he had a clean pocket last year was the third-worst in the league. Only Osweiler and Ryan Fitzpatrick were worse. While Bortles did regress sharply in 2016—he hasn’t really improved since his rookie year—the Jaguars will likely give Bortles one more full offseason to be their franchise quarterback. We imagine it will be Bortles’ last shot. Jacksonville can only hope Bortles recommits himself this summer.
T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory – Along with Blake Bortles, Jacksonville’s rushing attack in 2016 was equally disappointing. Per FootballOutsiders’, the Jags’ owned the league’s sixth-worst run blocking offensive line in 2016 – marking a distinct drop from their league-average mark just one season ago. While both dealt with various nicks and bruises along the way, T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory’s play suffered dramatically behind an inefficient offensive line and a less-than-stellar quarterback. Yeldon’s longest rush from scrimmage this season was a measly 16 yards while Ivory averaged a career-worst 3.80 yards per carry in 2016. As a duo, Jacksonville managed exactly zero weeks inside of the top-10 PPR scorers in 2016 (excludes Week 17). In fact, the Jaguars have only had two games in which one of their running backs scored 20 or more PPR points in a single game over the past four seasons. One 20-plus point game came all of the way back in 2013 by Maurice Jones-Drew and the last occurrence was by T.J. Yeldon in Week 13 of 2015. For context, the Browns have had six individual performances where a running back has eclipsed 20-plus PPR points over the past four years. The Jags’ retained Nathaniel Hackett as their OC from canned coach Gus Bradley’s staff and we simply don’t have enough data on what type of offense Jacksonville would like to run with Blake Bortles under center. In theory, Jacksonville would probably want to more a bit more run-heavy – the Jaguars have been the third-most pass-heavy team in the league for back-to-back seasons – but it is impossible to run the ball at will when your team is constantly trailing. Unless Jacksonville fundamentally changes their offense, which is not totally out of the question, both Yeldon and Ivory will enter 2017 as weak RB3’s with little upside.
Denard Robinson – Even though Robinson has just 263 career carries to his name, he is an interesting name to track this offseason. Still only 26-years-old, the converted-quarterback Denard Robinson is now an unrestricted free agent. While Robinson has been disappointing since he was a fifth-round pick, evaluating players in Jacksonville has to be done with a grain of salt. In the right system with the right coach, Robinson could be a fun space-back that only plays on limited snaps. Still, Robinson has failed to put down hardly any good tape over the past two years and will likely have to take a one-year “prove-it” deal if he does leave Jacksonville.
Allen Robinson – Thanks in large part to Blake Bortles’ drastic decline and Robinson’s own shortcomings, the 2016 season was none too kind to A-Rob. After breaking out for a monster 80/1400/14 season in 2015, Allen Robinson’s counting stats came crashing back down to earth in 2016. Robinson still caught 73 balls, but they went for a lackluster 883 yards and just six touchdowns. Bortles perhaps regressed to a point where he can’t return in 2016, but Robinson’s poor season needs a ton of context. First and foremost, Robinson saw the exact same number of targets (151) in this past season as 2015. The main issue – or point of regression – for Robinson in 2016 was on deep targets. Per PFF, Robinson and Bortles linked up for a league-leading 672 yards on 46 “deep” targets that travel at least 20 yards in the air in 2015. At 14.6 yards per deep target, Robinson and Bortles formed arguably one of the best deep passing duos in the league. That all changed in 2016. Last year, Robinson saw a robust 31 deep targets (sixth-most), but only caught four of those attempts for 108 yards. Again, per PFF, just five of Robinson’s 31 deep targets were deemed “catchable”. After averaging nearly 15 yards per deep target in 2015, Bortles and Robinson combined for an abysmal 3.5 yards per deep target in 2016. While Bortles’ regression is apparent in every facet of his game, his deep-ball acumen perhaps suffered the most in 2016. After a stellar WR8 (points/game) season in 2015, Robinson posted a wholly poor WR34 finish in 2016. It’s very possible that Robinson may not rekindle his elite ceiling until Jacksonville finds a new signal-caller.
Marqise Lee – A legitimately improved player from his rookie season in almost every way, Lee finally started showing signs of life in 2016. A former top-40 pick in 2014, Marqise Lee was plagued by soft-tissue injuries during his first two professional seasons and was passed on the depth chart by Allen Hurns and even the athletically deficient Rashad Greene in 2015. Despite Blake Bortles crumbling into a pile of rubble in 2016, Lee improved in every category this past year. After finally stayed healthy for an entire year, Lee caught four or more passes in 11-of-16 games in 2016 and was narrowly out-gained by standout receiver Allen Robinson (883:851). Now entering the final year of his rookie deal in 2017, Lee has a chance to prove he truly belongs in the NFL as a No. 2 receiver. Lee put himself back on the WR3 radar in fantasy, even with the venerable Blake Bortles inaccurately tossing him passes.
Allen Hurns – After a best-case scenario 2015 season (64/1031/10), Hurns struggled mightily in 2016. Prior to missing the final month of the season with a hamstring injury, Allen Hurns was passed on the target totem pole by Marqise Lee in the preceding weeks. Before hurting his hamstring and missing Week 13-17, Hurns caught just four of his 20 targets in Week 9-12 in a truly awe-inspiring Blake Bortles induced stretch of play. Hurns was a respectable WR4 in his prior seven games – he averaged four receptions and 63 yards on those days – but everything attached to Blake Bortles has to catch literal fire at some point. Hurns averaged a career-worst 0.240 fantasy points per route run in 2016, one year after averaging 0.393 PPR points/route and finishing as the WR23 in points per game. After penning a 4-year, $40.65M ($20M guaranteed) contract with Jacksonville in 2016 offseason, there is nowhere to go but up for Hurns after an injury-riddled season. Hurns will go into 2017 locked into the Jaguars’ slot role where he ran 70% of his routes last season.
Julius Thomas – After getting a huge 5-year, $46 million deal ahead of the 2015 season, Thomas has done nothing but disappoint in Duval County. Julius Thomas got $24M guaranteed in his massively expensive deal with the Jags and has since caught just 76 passes for 736 yards over the past two years. In his two-year stint with Jacksonville, Thomas has missed more games (11) than touchdowns scored (9). What’s more, Thomas has been held under 50 yards receiving in 15-of-21 games with the Jaguars. Per ESPN’s Mike DiRocco, there is almost no way Thomas will return to Jacksonville in 2017 and beyond. Cutting Thomas would save GM Dave Caldwell almost four million against the cap in 2017. A massive disappointment in every facet, Thomas turns 29 years old this summer and has never played a full 16-game season in his career. He’ll likely have to sign a one-year “prove-it” deal this offseason while Jacksonville will look to the future at tight end.
Tennessee Titans (9-7; 2nd in AFC South)
Marcus Mariota – There is no denying that Tennessee has its franchise quarterback. Before unfortunately breaking his leg (fibula) against Jacksonville in Week 16, Marcus Mariota was pushing the Titans’ talent-deficient receiving core towards a potential playoff birth. Genuinely improving in virtually every metric from his rookie year, Mariota showed that he is not “just” a quarterback that relies on his legs to succeed. Mariota improved his touchdown rate (5.1% to 5.8), interception rate (2.7% to 2.0%), and his adjusted yards/attempt average (7.40 to 7.90) in 2016. In the middle of the season, too, Mariota was arguably one of the hottest fantasy passers in the league. From Week 5 to Week 12, Marcus Mariota ripped opposing defenses for multiple passing scores in eight-straight games. In that stretch, Mariota finished as a QB1 (top-12) scorer in every contest – six of which were top-8 or better performances. The only issue in 2016 was that Mariota was virtually replaceable (in fantasy football) in all of his other games versus Minnesota, Detroit, Oakland, Houston, Denver, and Kansas City. In Weeks 1-4 and 14-15 (prior to breaking his leg), Mariota finished outside of the top-20 passers in four out of six games and his two best days in that span were QB15 and QB18 outings. While Mariota was a week-winner for a two-month stretch in the middle of the season, he has yet to put together a full, consistent season of fantasy success. Depending on his cost and provided his rehab on his broken fibula goes smoothly, Mariota could be a fantasy value once more in 2017 leagues. He’ll most definitely be a target in best-ball leagues where weekly volatility is less influential.
DeMarco Murray – After imploding in Philadelphia on a dying team in a poor offense that did not fit his running style, Murray revitalized his career in 2016. While former-Eagle HC Chip Kelly’s offense predicates on outside-zone concepts from the shotgun, Tennessee’s power-heavy formations with the quarterback under center proved to be a welcome reprieve from his days in Philadelphia. After averaging a career-low 47 rushing yards per game in 2015 with the Eagles, DeMarco Murray smashed opposing defenses for 80.4 yards per day in 2016 – his second-best single season ever. Once again receiving over 325 touches, Murray showed he still has a ton of juice left in his soon-to-be 29-year-old legs. Along with receiving one of the most voluminous workloads in the league, Murray showed an elite floor in 2016. He finished as a top-18 (PPR) rusher in 14-of-16 games, 11 of which were top-12 (RB1) or better performances. While Murray’s age and wear on his tires are not necessarily a concern yet, Derrick Henry is really the only entity dampening his early 2017 outlook. Still, even if Henry is even more involved in 2017, Tennessee’s offensive climate lends itself to possibly facilitating two relevant fantasy backs. Tennessee was the third-most run-heavy team in the league in 2016 behind one of the NFL’s best run-blocking offensive lines. Murray’s 2017 draft day cost will be one to monitor this summer.
Derrick Henry – Even though his rookie season started off slowly, Henry quietly ended 2016 more involved in the Titans’ offense than Tennessee originally schemed for in the beginning of the year. In Week 1-8, Derrick Henry saw just 53 carries (6.6 per game) while he saw a much more robust 48 rushing attempts (9.6 per game) down the Titans’ final five-game stretch. Now, in fairness, it is possible DeMarco Murray’s balky toe injury that gave him fits down the final months of the season lent itself to Henry’s increased role. Still, there is no denying Henry was effective enough to earn a larger role. In the Titans’ final five games, Henry rushed for 48/238/4 while DeMarco Murray was decidedly less efficient on his attempts (81/287/1). Perhaps just as importantly, Henry out-carried Murray 13:10 inside of the red-zone in Tennessee’s final five games. There is no way of telling whether or not Murray’s toe injury hampered him drastically down the stretch, but Derrick Henry undoubtedly played well to end the year.
Rishard Matthews – After inarguably having a career-year in 2016, Matthews will be an interesting WR2/3 to put a price on in 2017. Rishard Matthews smashed previous career-highs in Tennessee, going for 65/954/9 en route to a WR23 (points per game) finish. For context, Matthews 13.31 PPR points/game was the third-best season a Titans’ receiver has owned since Kenny Britt (15.73) in 2010 and Nate Washington (14.06). What’s more, Matthews 0.480 fantasy points per route run in 2016 was the second-best rate for Tennessee wide receivers over the past six years and was actually the eighth-best rate among qualified receivers in 2016 alone. On the first leg of his $15 million deal (for three years), Matthews looks like an absolute steal for the Titans. He is probably best suited to play second fiddle to an alpha-“X” receiver on the opposite of him, but there is no denying the 27-year-old can ball.
Tajae Sharpe – Even though he got a ton of buzz in the summer and in the week’s leading up to the season, Sharpe ended his 2016 rookie year with a whimper. Tajae Sharpe started the year with receiving lines of 7/76, 4/33, and 3/48 but he failed to improve drastically at any point in the year. Sharpe only caught five passes over the Titans’ final four games and ended up being held below 40 yards receiving nine times. A fifth-rounder from Massachusetts, Sharpe simply may not have the athletic acumen to really excel in the NFL. He’ll likely be off of the fantasy radar in normal 10- or 12-team fantasy leagues in 2017.
Kendall Wright – After missing the first three weeks with a hamstring injury, Wright simply did not play enough to become a weekly factor in Tennessee’s offense in 2016. Kendall Wright did have some monster games mixed in, but he was held below 25 yards receiving in 7-of-11 games and only played over 60 percent of the team’s snaps once. Wright primarily operated from the slot when he was on the field, finishing the year running nearly 90% of his routes from the slot in 2016. Only Jeremy Kerley ran a higher percentage of his routes from the slot in 2016. Still, after being benched in Week 14 and a healthy scratch in Week 17, Kendall Wright will almost assuredly move on from Tennessee in 2017. He’s an unrestricted free agent and did not mince words over whether or not he’ll be back in Nashville after the season ended. Only 27-years-old, Wright could end up attracting a fairly large free agent market.
Delanie Walker – Now entering his age-33 season in 2017, it is worth considering what Walker’s role in the Titans’ offense will look like in the coming season. While Walker followed up his epic 2015 campaign (94/1088/6) with a solid, but less voluminous 2016 season (65/800/7), he may just be entering the twilight zone of his career. With the mergence of Rishard Matthews and the strong likelihood the Titans bring in more receivers – either through the draft or free agency – Tennessee’s pass catching corps will undoubtedly look different in 2017. Walker has seen 106, 133, and 102 targets in his past three years, but he is definitely benefited from the Titans’ supreme lack of receiving talent around him. Regardless, Delanie Walker will be back on the TE1 radar in 2017 with one of the league’s best up-and-coming young quarterbacks in Marcus Mariota in the upcoming season. Walker may end up being just like Jason Witten and produce well into his age-33 and 34 seasons.