Denver Broncos (9-7; 3rd in AFC West)
Trevor Siemian – We always considered it strange that Siemian was actually drafted in 2015, considering he threw just 7 TD to 11 INT as a senior at Northwestern, and finished his college career with 27 TD and 24 INT. We were even more surprised when he was given a legitimate shot to compete with Paxton Lynch and Mark Sanchez for the Broncos’ starting QB job in 2016… and he won. Lynch was relegated to backup duty, and Sanchez was cut. In 14 games, missing one game each with a left shoulder injury and a foot injury, Siemian posted 289/486 passing for 3401 yards (59.5%, 7.0 YPA) with 18 TD and 10 INT. He added 28/57 rushing to rank 26th among QBs with 17.7 FPG. Siemian was solid, but little more – he finished three times as a top-10 QB, including the #1 overall QB against the Bengals in Week 3, but was typically not worth considering for fantasy. Siemian had three games of 300 or more passing yards, and in those games he threw 8 TD and 0 INT. Otherwise, he was mediocre. Coach Gary Kubiak did a phenomenal job disguising Siemian’s arm strength limitations behind a shaky offensive line, and ultimately the coaching staff felt he was a better bet to make good decisions than was the rookie Lynch. Ultimately, though, Siemian still had some “rookie” QB struggles – after all, he had never started a game in the NFL prior to 2016, and they were to be expected. And with his overall underwhelming skill set, we wonder if we’ve seen the “peak” of Siemian. Under a new coaching staff, the Bronco QB competition will be wide open. Lynch didn’t appear ready at all, but we wonder exactly what Siemian’s upside is in a new offense (under OC Mike McCoy).
Paxton Lynch – Though he was a 2016 first-round pick, it wasn’t surprising to us at all that the Broncos determined Lynch needed to sit and learn as a rookie. We said as much in our rookie reports, and the Lynch we did see didn’t dispel any of those thoughts. In three games (two starts, when Trevor Siemian was injured), Lynch went 49/83 for 497 yards (59%, 6.0 YPA) with 2 TDs and 1 INT. He added 11/25 rushing. The numbers aren’t so bad, but Lynch looked lost out there, not even coming close to executing Gary Kubiak’s offense the way it was called. In addition to Lynch’s pure rawness as a player, the Broncos now have a new coaching staff following the retirement of Kubiak. New head coach Vance Joseph has said there will be an open competition at QB for the Broncos, and it makes sense. Lynch has all the tools, but he has a long way to go.
C.J. Anderson – On his new contract, Anderson didn’t have a great 2016 season, but given how badly the Broncos’ offense (at least the run game) went in the tank when he got hurt, perhaps he should be getting more love. In seven games, CJA posted 110/437/4 rushing (4.0 YPC) and 16/128/1 receiving on 24 targets (8.0 YPR, 66.7% catch rate). He averaged 14.6 FPG, which ranked him 15th among RBs, if you extend his output over a full schedule. The problem was the “average” doesn’t really tell the full story of CJA’s season, as his 29.9 FP in Week 1 was easily his best performance of the year – he scored 2 of his 5 TDs in that game. His only two finishes as a top-12 RB came in the first two weeks, and though his lone 100-yard rushing game came in Week 7 (his final game), it wasn’t enough to rank him in the top 12 for the week. In all, Anderson ranked as a top-12 RB twice, a top-24 RB three more times, and outside the top 24 twice. It wasn’t a bad performance, but a lot of early investors didn’t seen enough return before Anderson went down with a torn meniscus. But once they saw Devontae Booker struggle behind a poor offensive line, there was a probably a lot more respect for what CJA accomplished. He’s back in 2017, and we’d expect him to enter the season as the top back, unless Booker seriously improves this coming off-season.
Devontae Booker – The rookie Booker had a rocky first season in the NFL, starting with losing a fumble on his first NFL carry, and then continuing by looking plodding and indecisive. In 16 games, Booker posted 174/612/4 rushing (3.5 YPC) and 31/265/1 receiving on 48 targets (8.5 YPR, 64.6% catch rate). He averaged 9.3 FPG, which tied him for 44th at the RB position. But once C.J. Anderson went down in Week 7, Booker was tied for 29th at RB with 11.8 FPG. That, of course, was a huge disappointment. There was a reasonable expectation that with Anderson injured, Booker would be a league-winning asset at RB, based on volume alone. It simply didn’t work out that way, because Booker was terribly ineffective for most of the year. Even after Anderson went down, Booker didn’t have a single top-12 RB finish on the year. From the outset of Week 8, Booker averaged under 3.0 YPC in five of 10 games, and under 4.0 YPC in eight of 10 games. He topped 4.0 YPC in just two of the seven games in which he received 10 or more carries. And because of his fumbling issues – which carried over from college – coach Gary Kubiak lost significant trust in Booker. After topping a 70% snap share in each of the Broncos’ first three games without Anderson, Booker fell to below 50% in three of the final four games, as his fumbles and other issues led Denver to sign vet Justin Forsett (Booker had 4 fumbles on the year). Overall, Booker looked slow and sluggish this year, and his vision was awful. However, it’s fair to point out that he looked his most explosive in the Broncos’ final two games this year, and the Denver offensive line was poor. If Booker wants to look for some inspiration for his 2017 season, he only has to look at division rival Melvin Gordon, who had similar issues as a rookie before breaking out in 2016. But there is a long uphill climb for Booker, and Anderson should be back and healthy next year.
Demaryius Thomas – It’s a testament to DT’s ability that he was able to put up a damn solid season despite the Broncos’ shaky QB situation, and shaky offense overall. In 16 games, DT posted 90/1083/5 receiving on 144 targets (12.0 YPC, 62.5% catch rate). With 14.3 FPG, he turned in the #17 season for a WR. And it was DT’s consistency that was the most appreciated – he caught exactly 5 or 6 passes in 10 of 16 games. He caught at least 4 in all but one game (unfortunately, that game was in Week 16). He finished as a top-24 WR eight times, and a top-36 WR once more. So while his ceiling wasn’t huge – it was lower than Emmanuel Sanders’ – DT most definitely earned a weekly spot in your lineups simply because he was helping your train along rather than driving it or derailing it. He had just one 100-yard game, but ended up below 40 yards just twice. More often than not, he was QB Trevor Siemian’s go-to “chain mover,” and Kubiak always did a phenomenal job getting the ball in DT’s hands on screens and quick slants. We’ll see if things change under a new staff and OC Mike McCoy, but the good news is that McCoy has plenty of experience calling plays for DT already – he was the OC for Demaryius’ first three seasons in the NFL, including his 1442-yard campaign in 2012.
Emmanuel Sanders – Sanders wasn’t as consistent as Demaryius Thomas this year, but he was more explosive and had the higher ceiling. In 16 games, Sanders posted 79/1032/5 receiving on 136 targets (13.1 YPR, 58.1% catch rate). He averaged 13.3 FPG, which tied him for 23rd among WRs, which is six spots behind DT on the season. But in terms of “matchup-winning” weeks, Sanders led the way by far – despite Sanders finishing as a top-24 WR just five times compared to DT’s eight, Sanders was actually a top-8 WR in four of those five weeks. So his floor was much lower than DT’s, but his ceiling was more consistently higher. Sanders had four games of 22 or more FP, but eight games with fewer than 10 FP, including making just 1 catch in the final two games of the regular season combined. He had three 100-yard games to one for DT, but what hurt Sanders’ consistency was the fact that all 5 of his TDs came in the four highest-yardage games of the year for Sanders. He was more of a downfield thread for Trevor Siemian than was DT, which also led to the inconsistency. He’s still a great player, but the Broncos had less-than-great QB play, which led to his worst statistical year in a Denver uniform.
Virgil Green – Green played in 12 games this year, and posted just 22/237/1 receiving on 36 targets (10.8 YPC, 61.1% catch rate). He never once finished as a top-14 TE, so he was useless even in deeper leagues. He played 61% of the Broncos’ snaps when active – he missed four games with a calf injury early in the year – but was mostly used as a blocker. That will be his role going forward, likely with either A.J. Derby or Jeff Heuerman being more of the receiving threat at the position for Denver.
A.J. Derby – The Patriots traded Derby to the Broncos for a 5th-round pick at the trade deadline, and the Broncos immediately started using Derby in their passing game. Appearing in six games with the Broncos, Derby played a 47% snap share with his new team. He posted 16/160/0 receiving on 19 targets (10.0 YPR, 84.2% catch rate). His performance in Week 14, in which he posted 57 yards on 5 catches, led the Broncos’ TEs in both categories on the season. That tells you that Derby is an intriguing talent, but also that the Broncos simply didn’t use the TE position much in the passing game. Derby missed the final two games of the season with a concussion, after missing his entire 2015 rookie campaign with a knee injury. He’s a project, but he’s intriguing. Will he or Jeff Heuerman be an actual usable TE in 2017?
Los Angeles Chargers (5-11; 4th in AFC West)
Philip Rivers – The Chargers’ final season in San Diego gave us plenty of reason to pity Rivers, who has been one of the NFL’s most durable players in his career, but the cost has been the team around him constantly crumbling. Once again – and as always – Rivers played in all 16 games for the Chargers. He posted 349/578 passing for 4390 yards (60.4%, 7.60 YPA) with 33 TDs and 21 INTs. In our site-default scoring system, which doesn’t dock for INTs, he ranked 8th at QB with 22.2 FPG. Of course, while Rivers finished 4th in the NFL in TD passes, his 21 INTs were most in the league, and most in the NFL since 2013. The amazing thing is that Rivers threw just 4 INTs in his first seven games… and 17 in his final nine. Rivers had a streak of seven consecutive games with at least 1 INT to end the year. That was the longest streak in the NFL this season. Of course, Rivers has plenty of excuses. His offensive line was shaky at best, and he lost his #1 WR, Keenan Allen, one half into the 2016 season with a torn ACL. Then, he lost third-down specialist Danny Woodhead to an ACL tear soon after. In standard scoring systems, Rivers had three top-8 QB finishes during the first five weeks of the regular season, but didn’t have a single top-12 finish for the rest of the year. Rivers threw for 300 or more yards six times, with four of those six coming in the first seven weeks. Sensing a pattern here? Not only were Allen and Woodhead out for the year, but fill-ins Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams dealt with their own dings and dents throughout the year. Moreover, the TE position wasn’t totally healthy all year, either. Then, by the end of the year, Rivers also lost RB Melvin Gordon, who had a breakout year of his own. On top of everything, Rivers seemed to have serious dead arm by the end of the year, with several passes floating too long and being picked off. It’s amazing how little luck Rivers seems to have, and now he has to play in a new city (Los Angeles, in case you were living under a rock) under a new coach in Anthony Lynn. Fortunately, the Chargers are bringing back OC Ken Whisenhunt, and they have to be healthier next year… right?
Melvin Gordon – The final year for the Chargers in San Diego was disappointing in more ways than one, but Gordon was at least someone who showed up to play on a consistent basis, in a true breakout season. The Chargers were left shorthanded when Danny Woodhead tore his ACL in Week 2, but Gordon, coming off an insanely disappointing rookie season, managed to break out and ease the pain. In 13 games, Gordon finished with 254/997/10 rushing (3.9 YPC) and 41/419/2 receiving on 57 targets (10.2 YPR, 71.9% catch rate) to finish 5th among RBs with 19.6 FPG. Gordon followed up his “amazing” zero-TD rookie campaign with 12 in 2016, and he ran hard – he showed a significant increase in power and decisiveness, even behind a shaky offensive line. Gordon had eight finishes as a top-12 RB in 13 games, including two finishes as the #1 overall PPR RB. With 20 goal-line carries and 9 TDs in that area, Gordon finished third behind only LeGarrette Blount and David Johnson in each category. Unfortunately, he likely would have finished better… if he didn’t miss the final three games of the regular season (and most of a fourth) when he went down with hip and knee injuries in Week 14. It ended Gordon’s season three yards shy of a 1000-yard campaign, and unfortunately it ended a lot of fantasy seasons in their tracks after Gordon was a legitimate RB1 for the entire season up until the fantasy playoffs. But we’ll choose to look back on Gordon’s season fondly, as he showed why the Chargers traded up to draft him in 2015. He ran for 100 or more yards three times, and added 100 yards from scrimmage in three more games. In the seven games in which Gordon didn’t tally 100 yards from scrimmage, he scored at least 1 TD in four of them. At a 75.1% snap share when active, Gordon was a clear bell cow. We’ll have to see what the Chargers do with impending free agent Danny Woodhead, but there’s a chance Gordon – who is expected to be healthy by spring – will be a first-round fantasy pick come August.
Danny Woodhead – Woodhead was almost certainly going to have a massive role in 2016, but he tore his ACL in Week 2, and it led to the breakout season of second-year RB Melvin Gordon. In two games, Woodhead posted 19/116/0 rushing (6.1 YPC) and 6/35/1 receiving on 8 targets. He averaged 13.6 FPG, but he got injured after playing just 5 snaps in Week 2… he actually scored 23.0 FP in Week 1. Woodhead just turned 32, is coming off his second season-ending injury in three seasons, and is entering free agency. We’d assume he’ll be available pretty cheaply, and fortunately, the Chargers retained OC Ken Whisenhunt despite hiring new HC Anthony Lynn. Will that make a return to the club more likely for Woodhead? He’ll be interesting to follow this off-season.
Tyrell Williams – The Chargers had some horrendous luck with injuries this year, but perhaps their key one – to WR Keenan Allen – allowed a future star to break out. A second-year player out of Western Oregon, Williams entered 2016 with just 2 catches to his name. Well, it’s a name everyone now knows. In 16 games, Williams posted 69/1059/7 receiving on 118 targets (15.3 YPR, 58.5% catch rate). At 13.6 FPG, he ranked 21st among WRs. A big receiver (6’4”, 205 pounds) with excellent speed, Williams was both a viable downfield threat and a player who could take quick slants to the house. By the end of the season, he was Philip Rivers’ favorite target, and this was despite Williams playing through injuries – he battled very sore knee and shoulder injuries, but managed to play in all 16 games. Williams had six games as a top-24 WR finisher, and three more as a top-36 finisher. That’s not bad at all for a guy whom most people never heard of before the Allen injury. Williams had three 100-yard performances and five more times scored a TD when he didn’t have 100 yards receiving. In many ways, he did what we thought the Chargers signed Travis Benjamin to do – remember that Benjamin also dealt with injuries throughout the year. In all, Williams played 83.5% of the Chargers’ offensive snaps, second among WRs (behind Dontrelle Inman). He has earned himself a starting role next year, whether Allen is back healthy or not.
Travis Benjamin – Benjamin was supposed to provide a deep threat complement to the possession-oriented skills of Keenan Allen in the Chargers’ offense, which is why the club signed him to a four-year contract last off-season. But as often happens with the Chargers, things didn’t exactly work out as planned. Playing in 14 games, Benjamin posted 47/677/4 receiving on 74 targets (14.4 YPR, 63.5% catch rate). He ranked tied for 60th among WRs with 9.9 FPG. On the year, Benjamin played just 59.3% of the Chargers’ snaps when active, well behind both Dontrelle Inman and Tyrell Williams, two unknowns prior to the season who topped 80% each. Williams had only two top-24 weeks all season, and they both came in the first five weeks of the regular season. Those two games were Benjamin’s only 100-yard performances of the year. In fact, through Week 5, Benjamin had 28/394/2 receiving – well more than half his fantasy production on the year, as he ranked 17th at WR in FPG over that span. Unfortunately, the injuries started to happen. Benjamin dealt most of the year with what was later revealed to be a painful PCL sprain, and ostensibly that is what led to his essentially playing a part-time role for the majority of the season. We’ll see if the injury truly sapped him of his upside next season, but he also will be part of a crowded receiving corps if Allen is back and healthy.
Dontrelle Inman – Inman was the snap leader at WR for the Chargers, at 89.8% while playing in all 16 games, Inman wasn’t terribly productive, posting 58/810/4 receiving on 96 targets (14.0 YPR, 60.4%). At 10.2 FPG, he tied for 57th among WRs. Despite playing a ton of snaps for basically the entire season (at least once Keenan Allen went down in Week 1), Inman spent the first half of the season as one of the least-efficient receivers on a per-snap basis in the NFL. He finished with fewer than 9 FP in six of his first seven games, including catching exactly 1 pass in four of those seven games. But from that point forward, Inman was actually a useful fantasy player – from Week 8 through the end of the season, Inman averaged 12.9 FPG, which tied him for 29th at the position. In all, Inman had five top-36 finishes at the WR position, and four of those five came after Week 7. An excellent route runner, Inman developed a strong rapport with Philip Rivers as the year went on and the injuries really started to pile up elsewhere. Unfortunately for Inman, his role would seem to be the one that’s most likely to shrink if Allen is back and healthy in 2017. Inman is a restricted free agent – he’s an important depth player, but will the Chargers prioritize bringing him back?
Keenan Allen – Ugh. What could have been. Allen played one half of football in 2016. He caught 6 passes for 63 yards on 7 targets, before a torn ACL ended his campaign in the first game of the season. That comes one year after his fluky season-ending kidney injury in 2015, caused when he landed on a pylon. In 2015, Allen was on pace for 134 receptions before being injured, and he was primed to once again threaten triple digits in 2016 before tearing his ACL. Allen’s injury history is a major concern, but he’s also still 24 – he doesn’t turn 25 until April. Given he tore his ACL in early September, he’s already back to working his way onto the field. His progress must be monitored throughout the off-season, but he appears to be determined to return at full strength.
Antonio Gates – Gates is by no means exciting, but like Jason Witten, the veteran is excellent at getting open against zone coverage, and he continues to have the trust of veteran QB Philip Rivers in critical situations. Playing in 14 games in 2016, Gates managed 53/548/7 receiving on 92 targets (10.3 YPR, 57.6% catch rate). He tied for 13th among TEs with 10.7 FPG, which ain’t too bad for a guy who turned 36 in June. Gates missed two games in October with a hamstring injury, but still returned to be an effective red-zone receiver. Of TEs, only Kyle Rudolph (8) had more targets inside the 5-yard line than did Gates (5), and Gates’ 4 TDs in that area tied Cameron Brate for the NFL lead among TEs. In fact, Rudolph was the only TE with more red-zone targets (25) than Gates (22). And among TEs with 50 or more targets, only teammate Hunter Henry (32.7%) had a higher-percentage of his targets come in the red zone than did Gates (23.9%). In all, Gates had seven finishes as a top-12 TE, not bad at all for his age. It’s also worth noting that two of his best three fantasy games on the year came in the final two weeks of the regular season, as he scored in each game to tie Tony Gonzalez’s career record of 111 TDs for a TE. In all, Gates was more of a “part time” player than ever before – he played just 62.4% of the Chargers’ offensive snaps when active. For now, Gates plans to honor his contract and play in 2017, and his strong, healthy finish to the year probably added to that resolve. He may just be a part-time player, but that part-time role will likely be where he’s still effective – on third down and in the red zone. He is almost certainly going to break Gonzo’s record next year.
Hunter Henry – As far as rookie TEs go, Henry had one of the best seasons in memory. He still wasn’t a consistent fantasy option, mind you, but he showed exceptional promise. In 15 games, missing one with a knee injury, Henry posted 36/482/8 receiving on 52 targets (13.4 YPR, 69.2% catch rate). At 8.8 FPG, he finished 22nd among TEs. In all, Henry was a viable streamer – despite a part-time role, he finished as a top-12 TE on six occasions, including in both games that Antonio Gates missed. However, with 8 TDs, Henry was very TD dependent. He tied with Cameron Brate for the lead at the TE position, despite finishing 27th at the position in total receptions. In all, Henry played just 58.1% of the Chargers’ offensive snaps, and you’d think that should absolutely go up in his second season. The status of Gates is intriguing though – Gates has already said he anticipates playing in 2017, and though he expects his role to decrease, won’t Gates stay involved in the red zone, where he was second among TEs in targets in 2016? That being said, the only TE with 50 or more total targets who saw a higher percentage of red-zone targets than Gates (23.9%)? That would be Henry, who saw a whopping 32.7% of his targets come in the red zone. Our guess is Henry’s TD dependency decreases in 2017, but his overall target share increases by a lot. He is primed for a breakout, even if Gates steals a TD here and there.
Kansas City Chiefs (12-4; 1st in AFC West)
Alex Smith – Smith was Smith in 2016, as he so often is. Playing in 15 games, missing one start with a concussion (that apparently wasn’t a concussion… sure), Smith posted 328/489 passing for 3502 yards (67.1%, 7.2 YPA) with 15 TD and 8 INT. He added a disappointing 48/134/5 rushing (2.8 YPC) to rank 18.6 FPG, which tied him with Sam Bradford for 24th among QBs. What’s most disappointing is that Smith accounted for fewer passing TDs in 2016 than he ever has as the Chiefs’ QB, despite TE Travis Kelce having a true breakout year and rookie WR Tyreek Hill bursting onto the scene. Smith’s 5 rushing TDs were a career-high, but his 134 yards and 2.8 YPC were by far his worst totals since arriving in Kansas City in 2013. In all, Smith had five finishes as a top-12 QB, which is what you would expect from one of the poster boys of streaming at the QB position, but occasionally he didn’t come through for fantasy in great matchups, which made him more frustrating than anything. Smith’s 3502 yards and 67.8% completion percentage were both career highs, and you wonder if things could have been slightly better if Jeremy Maclin didn’t miss such a huge chunk of the season. Still, Smith’s only 300-yard performance of the year came in Week 1, and in the playoffs, he was unable to quarterback the Chiefs to a win at home despite Pittsburgh not scoring a single TD. The debates on Smith will likely never end – he efficiently runs one of the NFL’s most creatively designed offenses, but it’s never really been good for fantasy, and is it good enough for the Chiefs to get to the Super Bowl?
Spencer Ware – It was an up-and-down season for Ware, who had a bigger role than the Chiefs likely anticipated, given Jamaal Charles’ inability to get himself healthy as he “returned” from his 2015 ACL tear. It led to Ware functioning as a true lead back, for the most part, for the first time in his career. In 14 games, missing one with a concussion and one with a rib injury (Week 17), Ware posted 214/922/3 rushing (4.3 YPC) and 33/447/2 receiving on 42 targets (13.5 YPC, 78.6% catch rate). He ranked 17th among RBs with 14.3 FPG, so given he was typically a 7th/8th-round pick on draft day, he provided excellent return on investment as a solid RB2 for fantasy. But honestly, it felt like his year should have gone better – Ware finished as a top-12 RB four times on the year, but three of those instances came in the first six games of the season. He went down with a concussion in Week 8, missed Week 9, and then finished better than 20th at RB just once more during the year. From Weeks 1 through 7, Ware averaged 5.2 YPC and ranked 7th among RBs at 18.5 FPG. From Week 8 through the end of the year, he averaged just 3.6 YPC and ranked 33rd with 11.2 FPG. It’s possible Ware simply wore down, as he had never been used to this type of workload before. In all, Ware played 60.3% of the Chiefs’ snaps when active, so he was very much involved. Ware had no fewer than 12 touches in any game he started and finished, and four times had 20 or more touches. He had a solid season, but we’d bet the Chiefs would like either Charles or Charcandrick West to provide more of a “lightning” element to Ware’s “thunder” next year.
Charcandrick West – For the most part, West was useless for fantasy in 2017. Playing in 15 games (missing Week 4 with an ankle injury), West posted 88/293/1 rushing (3.3 YPC) and 28/188/2 receiving on 34 targets (6.7 YPR, 82.4% catch rate) to tie for 69th among RBs with 6.3 FPG. On the year, West was little more than Spencer Ware’s handcuff, playing just 37.7% of the Chiefs’ offensive snaps, but at the very least his two best games of the year (Week 9 and Week 17) came when Ware was inactive, so he was at least usable in those instances. They were the only two times West finished as a top-24 RB on the year – #19 in Week 9 and #2 in Week 17 – and we wonder if he’s perhaps earned a bigger role next year, with Ware seemingly “wareing” down (lol!!) late in the year. But West needs to be better, as he averaged just 3.3 YPC on the year, and only twice all year did he average more than 4.0 YPC in a single game (and none after Week 6). In all, it was an unsuccessful year for West.
Jamaal Charles – Sometimes, we take for granted how difficult it is to return from an ACL injury. It seems that so many athletes return with little to no complications – Jordy Nelson comes to mind – that we almost ignore the possibility of an injury lasting longer than expected. Well, Charles serves as a cautionary tale. After tearing his ACL in October 2015, Charles’ recovery was consistently “behind” schedule, so much so that he was inactive for the Chiefs’ first three games. Then, Charles was only able to play in three games before going down with damage in both knees, requiring surgery to repair a meniscus in each knee. In those three games, Charles played a total of 27 snaps and managed 12/40/1 rushing and 2/14 receiving on 3 targets. Charles has told reporters that he still wants to play, but he is now 30 and has had multiple serious injuries in both of his knees. He’s a total wild card for 2017.
Jeremy Maclin – 2016 was a year to forget for Maclin. He played in 12 games, missing four with a groin injury, and never really made an impact for fantasy. He posted just 44/536/2 receiving on 76 targets (12.2 YPR, 57.9% catch rate) to average 9.1 FPG, which tied him for 69th at the position. It was, by every measure possible, Maclin’s worst season in the NFL. Maclin’s only finish as a top-24 WR on the season came in Week 1, when he ranked 18th at the position based on the strength of the Chiefs playing from behind for the majority of the game. Maclin’s season-high in yardage was 82, and though he had games with 15 and 10 targets, he never caught more than 6 passes in a game. Combine that with only 2 TDs, and you have a recipe for one awful season. Maclin averaged just 0.17 FP/snap (league average of 0.22), so despite playing a team-high 81.8% of snaps when active, he just didn’t make the impact he should have. Perhaps the injury had something to do with it, but his inefficient year serves in stark contrast to that of rookie Tyreek Hill.
Tyreek Hill – A 2016 fifth-round pick, the explosive Hill was a “steal” in the draft only to the extent of how much you’re able to overlook his transgressions – he was arrested in 2014 and kicked off of Oklahoma State’s football team after pleading guilty to the domestic assault of his pregnant girlfriend. The Chiefs were ostensibly satisfied with the remorse Hill showed and continues to show, and were “rewarded” for their faith in him with an explosive rookie season. In 16 games, Hill posted 61/593/6 receiving on 83 targets (9.7 YPR, 73.5% catch rate) with an obscene 24/267/3 rushing added on (11.0 YPC) to average 12.6 FPG, which tied him for 30th among WRs with 12.6 FPG. Those in return-yardage leagues got even more value, as Hill combined for 976 yards and 3 TDs on kick and punt return TDs. It was a year of explosive plays for Hill. Though only twice did he have 10 or more offensive touches in a game, and he played just 42.8% of the Chiefs’ offensive snaps overall, Hill was one of the single most efficient players in fantasy football. Hill finished eight times as a top-36 WR, the same number of times as the rest of his teammates combined (that included two top-12 finishes). Among WRs with 50 or more snaps, Hill ranked #1 at 0.47 FP/snap, nearly three times the league average of 0.18 FP/snap among such players. Hill scored 12 TDs as a rookie, and eight of them were of 30 yards or more. Five of those eight were of 68 yards or more. Without a doubt, he was one of the most electric players in the entire NFL. But there are obviously questions. Can scoring from such a distance with regularity be repeated? Can his efficiency remain relatively high if his role increases? And, most importantly, can Hill continue to show remorse for his past and be available to the Chiefs?
Chris Conley – Believe it or not, Conley played in all 16 games for the Chiefs and had a 79.9% snap share. You wouldn’t know it by his final numbers – he managed just 44/530/0 receiving on 69 targets (12.0 YPR, 63.8% catch rate). At 6.1 FPG, he tied for 96th among WRs. Just once all year did Conley top 10 FP – a 6/70 showing in Week 4 against Pittsburgh. Otherwise, at 0.12 FP/snap, he was one of the least-efficient WRs in the entire NFL (and about four times less efficient than teammate Tyreek Hill). Conley is a big guy who can run, but you wonder if he’s just not that good a fit for an offense that has Alex Smith at QB.
Travis Kelce – 2016 was a weird year for the Chiefs overall, at least from a fantasy standpoint, but we’ll consider it a rousing success anyway because they got the year out of Kelce that we always thought was possible. In 16 games, Kelce posted 85/1125/4 receiving on 116 targets (13.2 YPR, 73.3% catch rate). He led all TEs with 221.0 total FP, and was 2nd to only Jordan Reed with 13.8 FPG. Most important was Kelce’s consistency – he finished as a top-12 TE on nine different occasions, and from Weeks 8 through 16, he had six 100-yard games in a span of nine weeks. In fact, he had four consecutive 100-yard performances from Weeks 11 through 14. That was the only such streak this year at any position, and he was the first TE to accomplish the feat since Jimmy Graham in 2013 (Graham has done it twice since 2011, and was the first TE to do it even once since Tony Gonzalez in 2000). Yes, Kelce still had some disappointing weeks, finishing with under 10 FP in six of 16 games (including 1.8 FP in Week 17, for those still crazy enough to play title games that week), but it was so clear he was the Chiefs’ most dynamic and dangerous weapon offensively. The fact that he finished with a league-high 221.0 FP despite scoring just 4 TDs is exceptionally rare for the position, since TEs usually build their fantasy value on catching TDs. So there’s room for improvement from Kelce, who all in all played 86.7% of the Chiefs’ offensive snaps and was their #1 receiver for all intents and purposes. We’d be surprised if Kelce wasn’t the first TE taken in fantasy drafts in 2017.
Oakland Raiders (12-4; 2nd in AFC West)
Derek Carr – Carr was overall spectacular in 2016, bringing glory back to The Black Hole, but the season will always be a little weighed down by the “what if?” factor. In 15 games, Carr posted 356/559 passing for 3933 yards (63.7%, 7.04 YPA). He threw 28 TDs to 6 INTs, ranking 17th at QB with 21.0 FPG. Unfortunately, despite Carr leading the Raiders to an AFC Wild Card spot at 12-4 and their first playoff berth in 14 years, he broke his leg in Week 16, and the Raiders’ playoff hopes went up in flames with Connor Cook starting a Wild Card loss in Houston. It was a sour ending for Oakland, but up until that point, Carr had put together a fringe MVP season. For the most part, he was very useful for fantasy, turning in eight performances as a top-12 QB in his 15 starts. Carr had four games of 300 or more passing yards, including a ridiculous 513 with 4 TDs in Week 8 against Tampa Bay, and for more times he threw 3 or more TDs when he didn’t throw for 300 yards. The issue with Carr is that there was no real in-between on him; he finished as a top-12 QB eight times in 15 games, but in the other seven games, he finished no higher than 20th. That’s more fluky than anything else, but also note that those games tended to come against secondaries that could neutralize Amari Cooper – though Cooper and Michael Crabtree proved to be one of the most effective WR duos in the NFL, the lack of depth at the position (and lack of a usable TE) could hurt Carr on occasion. Additionally, Carr played through a broken finger over the final month he was “healthy,” an injury that ostensibly made his completion percentage drop by over 10% from where it was prior to the injury – after injuring the pinky in Week 12, Carr played almost exclusively out of the shotgun to minimize failed under-center exchanges. The season ended poorly, but Carr should be healthy in time for training camp, and the Raiders have plenty to build on. Carr will likely be drafted among the top-12 QBs in 2017.
Latavius Murray – All in all, 2016 was a weird year for Murray. Let’s start by examining his bottom line – in 14 games, missing two early in the season with turf toe – Murray posted 195/788/12 rushing (4.0 YPC) and 33/264/0 receiving on 43 targets (8.0 YPR, 76.7% catch rate) to finish 12th at RB with 15.0 FPG. That finish is better than Murray’s play this season. First of all, 34.3% of Murray’s total scoring came from TDs, a relatively high number. And overall, Murray played just 52.9% of the Raiders’ snaps when active, as Oakland consistently tried to get Jalen Richard and/or DeAndre Washington involved. Nonetheless, Murray’s propensity for scoring TDs (he had 9 TDs on 17 runs inside the 5, a better percentage than anyone above him in goal-line carries) helped him to five top-12 finishes at the RB position. And his floor was reasonably high, as he finished with fewer than 10 FP in a PPR in just three of his 14 games. The problem was the Raiders’ lack of full faith in him – they spent most of the early part of the season trying to replace him, and even when he got hot in the middle part of the year, they went away from him later on. He fumbled twice in a Week 15 game against the Chargers, and then saw just 20 carries total over the final two games of the season. In all, Murray provided a solid return on investment for a 4th- or 5th-round pick, but the Raiders never really fully committed to him. Murray now enters free agency with two 100-yard games under his belt from 2016, but teams on the open market may view him just like the Raiders did – as a goal-line specialist who is best as part of a rotation.
Jalen Richard – Richard (and, to a lesser extent, DeAndre Washington) had an odd rookie season in that he was very efficient and was consistently involved in the Raider offense, but was rarely more than a deep flyer for fantasy. In 16 games, Richard posted 83/492/1 rushing (5.9 YPC) and 29/194/2 receiving on 39 targets (6.7 YPR, 74.4% catch rate). With 7.2 FPG, he finished tied for 61st among RBs. A UDFA out of Southern Miss, Richard burst onto the scene in Week 1 with a #12 overall finish at RB, on the heels of a 75-yard TD run on his first NFL carry. Coincidentally, that was Richard’s only finish as a top-12 RB all year. He had four more finishes inside the top-24 at RB, but those games were the only time Richard finished with double-digit fantasy points in PPR. In all, he played just 21.2% of the offensive snaps for Oakland on the year, so despite his explosive playmaking ability, he couldn’t earn a consistent role. Richard had 10 or more touches in only three different games, and his season-high in carries alone came with 9 in Week 13. The Raiders appeared to trust him more than fellow rookie Washington, as Washington was at one point late in the year a healthy scratch, but Washington often played more snaps than Richard when both were active. Nonetheless, Richard averaged 0.49 FP/snap, which was third-most in the NFL among RBs with 200 or more snaps (only Tevin Coleman and Ryan Mathews fared better). With Latavius Murray entering free agency, it’ll be fascinating to see if Richard’s role increases in 2017.
DeAndre Washington – Washington was one of our favorite rookie RBs, and we loved his situation, but while he tantalized often with his dynamic ability and elusiveness, he didn’t secure a big enough role to make much of a fantasy impact. In 14 games – missing two late in the year as a healthy scratch – Washington posted 87/467/2 rushing (5.4 YPC) and 17/115/0 receiving on 23 targets (6.8 YPR, 73.9% catch rate). At 6.2 FPG, he finished 71st among RBs. The big wrench into Washington’s value wasn’t starter Latavius Murray – as we had anticipated, the Raiders really did want to make Murray a rotational player, as he played barely over 50% of the Raiders’ snaps in 2016. Instead, it was another rookie in Jalen Richard, who also exhibited some explosive traits and helped to minimalize Washington’s fantasy impact. Washington actually played a higher percentage of snaps (24.7%) when active to Richard (21.2%), but Richard was clearly viewed, at least at one point late in the season, as the Raiders’ #2. And while Richard had five top-24 finishes at RB, Washington had just one – Week 16, when he scored both of his rushing TDs on the year. Unlike Richard, Washington actually had three games of 10 or more carries, and he also had one game of 100 yards from scrimmage – that same Week 16 game. Richard had none. Washington still did plenty to impress, especially late in the season, and we think he has some outrageous elusiveness. With Murray entering free agency, Washington could be primed for a breakout in 2017.
Amari Cooper – The Raiders’ #1 WR – or so assumed #1 WR – was a popular second-round pick in 2016. And given that, he probably was a bit of a disappointment. In 16 games, Cooper posted 82/1149/5 receiving on 130 targets (14.0 YPR, 63.1% catch rate). At 14.2 FPG, he finished a solid, but disappointing, 18th at the WR position. What made Cooper’s year more disappointing was the fact that teammate Michael Crabtree – available for significantly cheaper on draft day – actually ranked 14th in FPG. Cooper had four 100-yard performances on the year, but the problem is that all of them came through Week 8. Those four games also served as Cooper’s only top-12 weekly finishes at the WR position all year. In fact, through Week 8, Cooper was the #7 PPR WR with 17.8 FPG. From that point on, he was an extremely disappointing 52nd with 10.5 FPG… tied with the unknown Robby Anderson. He had fewer than 60 yards in eight of his final nine games. On the year, Cooper saw 14 fewer targets than Crabtree, and over the final eight games of the season, he fell below or equaled Crabtree in targets in six of eight games. Then, in the playoffs, he had just 2 catches on 10 targets. So… what happened? Cooper really cleaned up his rookie season drops, but he still had several at inopportune times. Mostly, it just appeared as if QB Derek Carr trusted Crabtree more in “big” spots. Crabtree saw 22 red-zone targets to Cooper’s 13, which will hurt Cooper’s TD chances. Worse overall, Seth Roberts had 21 red-zone targets despite seeing 54 fewer overall targets than Cooper. His second half was not great, but Cooper still put up a solid overall line, and perhaps he’s available as more of a discount next season.
Michael Crabtree – For the second consecutive year, Crabtree went down as one of the biggest draft-day values at the WR position. In 16 games, the veteran WR hauled in 89/1003/8 on 144 targets (11.3 YPR, 61.8% catch rate). At 14.8 FPG, he ranked 14th at WR for the full season, which put him four spots above teammate Amari Cooper. And Cooper was typically going at least five rounds ahead of Crabtree on draft day. Crabtree had only three top-12 finishes at WR compared to Cooper’s four, but the story of Crabtree’s year was a greater level of consistency. Crabtree had six additional weeks as a top-24 WR, compared to just one for Cooper (through Week 16). As Cooper was ranking as the 52nd WR with 10.5 FPG over the final eight games of the regular season, Crabtree was a far more usable 32nd (not great, but still not killing you in your lineups). Crabtree had three 100-yard games, but fell below 13.0 FPG just five times in 16 games. His ceiling wasn’t as high as Cooper’s, but his floor was much higher – that was in large part because of his 22 red-zone targets to Cooper’s 13. That was enough to rank him higher than Cooper in the long run. We would expect Cooper to go ahead of Crabtree again next year, simply because of youth, but Crabtree should close the gap, and he appears to have plenty left in the tank as he enters his age-30 season.
Seth Roberts – All Roberts does is score TDs. Really – if he wasn’t scoring TDs, he wasn’t doing anything for your fantasy team. In 16 games, he posted 38/397/5 receiving on 76 targets (10.4 YPR, 50% catch rate). He tied for 90th at the WR position with 6.7 FPG. But the crazy thing about Roberts was the fact that he saw an insane 21 red-zone targets, which tied him for 9th among WRs – no WR in the top 60 in red-zone targets saw a higher percentage of his overall targets come in the red zone. Despite his propensity for scoring TDs, Roberts had just two finishes as a top-36 WR, and just one as a top-24 WR. He was useless for fantasy, a complete thorn in the side of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree owners… especially Cooper, since Cooper had just 13 red-zone targets despite tallying 130 total targets. Roberts is a useful player, so we’d expect him to definitely be back next year (he is an exclusive-rights free agent), but 5.22 yards per target isn’t going to cut it if he doesn’t have a fluky high number of TDs again next year.
Clive Walford – The TE was not an important position for the Raiders this year, and only once all year did an Oakland TE turn in a top-12 week – Walford did it in Week 2 with 6/50/1 receiving. However, that was the only time all year he topped 3 catches in a game. In all, Walford posted 33/359/3 receiving in 15 games, on 52 targets (10.9 YPR, 63.5% catch rate). He tied for 36th at TE with 5.8 FPG. He missed one game early in the season with a knee injury, and overall played 67% of the Raiders’ offensive snaps. It’s becoming clear that Walford isn’t the competitor the Raiders are looking for at TE, and they could opt to upgrade, especially with Mychal Rivera heading into free agency.