Chicago Bears (3-13; 4th in NFC North)
Jay Cutler – The Cutler Era in Chicago will likely unceremoniously end this off-season after a mostly polarizing eight years with the Bears. He sprained his thumb in Week 2 and missed five games to the injury before tearing the labrum in his throwing shoulder and missing the final six games. He underwent surgery to repair his shoulder in early December. He completed 81/137 passes (59.1%) for 1059 yards (7.7 YPA), 4 TDs, and 5 INTs, averaging 15.1 FPG in his five games. Cutler has had an up-and-down tenure in Chicago but has been in decline recently, and he played worse than his backups Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley in 2016. Cutler likely has a few seasons left in him at 34, but he’s unlikely to spend the next couple years with the Bears. With the guaranteed portion of Cutler’s seven-year, $126 million contract done, the Bears are expected to start over at quarterback, with either a high draft pick and/or a cheaper stop-gap as the starter in 2017. Cutler could be hard pressed to find a starting gig in free agency, and he could be relegated to a backup role at his next stop.
Brian Hoyer – The Bears have some major decisions to make at quarterback for 2017, but Hoyer is the one QB that played last season who we could see returning. He actually played pretty well as the starter, throwing for 6 TDs without an INT and going for more 300+ yards in all four of his starts in Weeks 3-6. He averaged 22.9 FPG in that stretch (10th at the position) and was a viable streamer of the waiver wire. Hoyer entered the lineup after Jay Cutler sprained his thumb in Week 2, and he left in Week 7 and missed the rest of the year with a fractured forearm. Hoyer completed 134/200 passes (67.0%) for 1445 yards (7.2 YPA), 6 TDs, and 0 INTs, averaging 16.3 FPG in six games. Hoyer did average a miserable .48 fantasy points per pass attempt – the league average was .53 – so a lot of his production was driven by volume, but he also had just one turnover on a lost fumble. Hoyer was once an afterthought here, but there’s a chance he might end up as the starter in 2017. Cutler doesn’t have a future with the Bears, and Matt Barkley faltered down the stretch after a strong start. Hoyer seems like the most logical stop-gap/mentor for the start of 2017 if the Bears decide to go with a rookie in the early rounds.
Matt Barkley – Barkley surprised many by looking competent in his first couple starts after both Jay Cutler (shoulder) and Brian Hoyer (forearm) were lost for the season. He turned out to be a better thrower in the intermediate and deep areas than we anticipated when he took over in Week 12, but he slowly began to unravel in his final three starts, throwing a whopping 10 INTs in that span and getting benched in the finale. He completed 129/216 passes (59.7%) for 1611 yards (7.5 YPA), 8 TDs, and 14 INTs, averaging 17.1 FPG in seven games. Out of Barkley's 216 passing attempts on the season, 41.2% of those tosses went for first downs. Only Matt Ryan - who threw for first downs on 44.6% of his passes - had a higher percentage among QBs who attempted 200+ passes. Considering that Barkley started the season on the practice squad, he came along way in 2016 despite his awful finish. We wouldn’t be shocked if the Bears give him a chance to compete for the starting job out of training camp, depending on what they do in free agency and in the draft. But the most likely scenario is that the Bears will lean toward Hoyer as their stop-gap/mentor if they draft a QB, but Hoyer will also command more of a market in free agency, so Barkley could be their fall-back plan.
Jordan Howard – Howard was quite the revelation as a fifth-round pick, breaking Matt Forte’s rookie rushing records after taking full control of this backfield after an ineffective Jeremy Langford injured his ankle in Week 3. Howard actually started the season as the #3 RB behind Langford and Ka’Deem Carey, but he quickly rose to the every-down role. Howard never relinquished the job, and he ranked as the #8 fantasy RB with 16.5 FPG as a starter from Week 4 on. In his 13 games as a starter, he reached 100+ total yards 10 times and had 99 yards in another game. His only real rough spot came in Weeks 6-7, but he was extremely consistent outside of those two games. Howard showed great vision and ran with a purpose, which helped him to be one of the best runners after contact. He finished the year with 252/1313/6 rushing (5.2 YPC) and 29/298/1 receiving on 50 targets (58.0% catch rate, 10.3 YPR) in 15 games. Howard averaged 15.6 FPG, ranking 9th at the position behind Theo Riddick. He played on 68% of the snaps, saw a 9.4% target share, and had whopping 40.90% of the team’s touches. Howard averaged an impressive .83 fantasy points per touch – the league average for the position was .70. Howard was one of just five RBs with 70+ rushing attempts and 15+ receptions who averaged at least 4.6 YPC and 8.6 YPR. The other four were Ezekiel Elliott, Jordan Rex Burkhead, Devonta Freeman, and Duke Johnson. Howard finished second to Elliott in rushing yards, which is first time since the NFL merger in 1970 that two rookies led the league in rushing. Of course, Zeke was taken 4th overall while Howard was selected 150th overall. Howard will look to become a more well-rounded back in the passing game this off-season, working on his hands and pass protection. No matter what happens with WR Alshon Jeffery this off-season, Howard should be the focal point of the Bears' offense, especially if they draft a quarterback in the early rounds of the draft. Howard will be drafted as a RB1 next summer, and he’s got a great chance of going in the first 12 picks. He just turned 22 years old last November, and we think he still has some upside potential if he can improve in passing situations this off-season.
Jeremy Langford – Langford got his chance to be the man in this backfield, but he whiffed in the first two weeks of the season before injuring his ankle in Week 3 and missing the next four games. By the time he was healthy enough to play again, rookie Jordan Howard had taken the job and run with it, relegating Langford to secondary work. He finished with 62/200/4 rushing (3.2 YPC) and 19/142/0 receiving on 27 targets (70.4% catch rate, 7.5 YPR), averaging 6.4 FPG in 12 games. He played on 33% of the snaps and saw 11.79% of the team’s touches. Langford actually averaged an impressive .95 fantasy points per touch – the league average for the position was .70 – thanks in large part to his TD production. Langford averaged just 3.2 YPC this season compared to Howard’s impressive 5.2 average, and Langford now has a 3.5 average in his first two seasons. He’s pretty clearly shown that he’s a backup and not meant to be a three-down back through two seasons. Langford’ best chance for fantasy relevance is if he can improve as a receiver and still passing-back snaps from Howard.
Alshon Jeffery – Jeffery has had two chances at having contract-year bumps, and he’s struck out twice the last two seasons. He couldn’t stay on the field because of a slew of leg injuries in 2015, and he then got popped for a PED suspension and missed four games in 2016. He had an overall disappointing campaign even if you discount his suspension, with the relative unknown Cameron Meredith outperforming him at WR. Jeffery and the rest of the offense had a rough go of it with their revolving door at QB, and he was playing with practice-squad QB Matt Barkley by the end of the season. Jeffery had just one 100-yard game in 2016, but he did have quite a few near 100-yard games, with five games with 85+ yards. He finished the year with 52/821/2 receiving on 94 targets (55.3% catch rate, 15.8 YPC) in 12 games. He averaged 12.2 FPG, tying with Jordan Matthews for 36th at the position. Jeffery played 93% of the snaps, saw a 17.3% target share, and had 7.57% of the team’s touches. He averaged just 1.59 fantasy points per target – the league average for the position was 1.93. Jeffery did have 12+ FP in two-thirds of his games (8), but he had just one standout performance with 20+ FP, which is a major disappointment for a guy being drafted as a WR1 last summer. Jeffery said after the season that he’s looking to win a Super Bowl in Chicago, but we’ll see just how both sides feel about each other once free agency rolls around. It’s tough to let a unique talent like Jeffery leave, but the Bears will have to pony up if they want to keep him around, even with his PED suspension hanging over him from this past season. The Bears did get $3.43 million back because of Jeffery’s suspension, which could conceivably go toward another franchise tag – The Chicago Tribune believes his tag would rise from $14.6 million in 2016 to around $17.5 million in 2017. No matter what happens, the pursuit of Jeffery this off-season is going to be fascinating. Will teams be bidding on the potential he showed in 2013-14 when he posted 174/2554/17 receiving? Or will teams be a little more cautious off his injury-plagued, PED-taking seasons from 2015-16?
Cameron Meredith – No one would’ve guessed at the beginning of 2016 that Meredith would be the only bright spot at receiver. It was that kind of year for the Bears. Meredith, a former college QB at Illinois State, came out of nowhere to become quite the revelation for the Bears. He’s long and lean (6’3”, 207 pounds) and showed much more polish as a route runner than one would expect for a relative newbie to the position. He also worked all over the field, doing his best work out of the slot where he caused matchup nightmares for smaller defenders. Even the Bears didn’t know what they had in Meredith, making the second-year WR a healthy scratch for the first two games of the season. He had just 6 total catches in the following two games before getting his big break when Kevin White went out of the lineup. Meredith is the only player in the league to have 9+ catches and 100+ yards in four games this season – Julio Jones, A.J. Green, T.Y. Hilton, and Michael Thomas each did it three times. Heck, the Bears #1 WR Alshon Jeffery had just one 100-yard game and the most receptions he had in a game was 7. Meredith finished the year with 66/888/4 receiving on 97 targets (68.0% catch rate, 13.5 YPC) in 14 games. He averaged 13.1 FPG, ranking 26th at the position behind Kenny Britt. He played on 78% of the snaps, saw a team-high 18.2% target share, and had 9.61% of the team’s touches. The only knock against Meredith in 2016 is that he was a boom-or-bust option, topping 19+ FP five times and falling below 7 FP five times. He showed more consistency from Week 10 on – which included a four-game stretch with Jeffery out of the lineup in Weeks 11-14 – averaging 14.5 FPG, mostly with Matt Barkley at QB. The Bears are in major flux at WR this off-season with Alshon Jeffery heading to free agency. Meredith could become the top target here if the Bears let the frustrating Jeffery walk, and he’ll have a major role even if Jeffery does return. The Bears will also likely be breaking in a new QB, although we can’t imagine the situation getting much worse after they cycled through three QBs. Meredith is going to be an extremely intriguing fantasy asset next summer depending on all the moves the Bears make this summer, and we still think he has even more upside than he showed this year.
Kevin White – White has had one of the more frustrating starts to his career as the #7 overall pick back in 2015. After missing all of his rookie season with a stress fracture in his shin, he played in just four games in 2016 after suffering a severe high-ankle sprain which caused a spiral fracture of his fibula. The Bears were hoping for a late-season return of the IR list, but they decided to shut him down for good in November. He finished with 19/187/0 receiving on 36 targets (52.8% catch rate, 9.8 YPC), averaging 9.7 FPG and playing on 79% of his snaps in four games. White averaged a pathetic 1.07 fantasy points per target – the league average for the position was 1.93. White was considered an extremely raw prospect coming out of West Virginia, and he’ll go into his 25-year-old season with just four games under his belt. He also looked sluggish as a route runner and unsure of himself when he did play, which was quite the departure from the explosiveness he showed as an outside receiver in college. The Bears are in major flux at WR this off-season with Alshon Jeffery heading to free agency, but White should have a major role on the outside no matter what happens to Jeffery. It’s setting up to be a make-or-break year for White after two lost campaigns.
Marquess Wilson – Wilson has flashed when he’s played in his first four season, but the playing part has been very difficult for the wiry Wilson – he’s listed at 6’4”, 206 pounds. He needed surgery on his foot in November 2015, and he re-broke his foot at minicamp in June. He missed the first 10 weeks of the season before finally getting on the field in Weeks 11-13. He unfortunately re-broke his foot once again and missed the final four games of the year. Wilson finished with 9/160/1 receiving on 16 targets (56.3% catch rate, 17.8 YPC), averaging 10.3 FPG and playing 39% of the snaps in his three games. Wilson is long and can run, which makes him an intriguing project. He’s also just 24 years old despite being a four-year veteran, but the issue is that he’s played in just 30 of 64 possible games (46.9%). Wilson is going to struggle to find any kind of market, and he’ll likely have to take a one-year, prove-it deal and compete for a spot in training camp.
Eddie Royal – Royal’s three-year, $15 million contract will go down as a disaster for the Bears. He’s appeared in just 18 games in his first two seasons with the Bears, which isn’t exactly groundbreaking since he’s had a history of injuries throughout his career. A toe injury slowed after Week 6 and forced him to miss two games before eventually knocking him out for the season after Week 12. He finished the year with 33/369/2 receiving on 43 targets (76.7% catch rate, 11.2 YPC) in just 9 games. He averaged 9.1 FPG, tying for 65th at the position with Jeremy Maclin. He played on 53% of the snaps and had an 8.1% target share. The Bears will likely unload his contract as they can save all $5 million that is due to him next season, especially with Cameron Meredith proving to be the much better player out of the slot for the future.
Zach Miller – The story of Miller’s career has always revolved around injuries, and they once again cut short his 2016 campaign. He landed on the IR after Week 11 after he needed surgery to repair a broken foot. He was on a relatively healthy run for him, playing in 25 of his first 26 games as a Bear, sitting out a meaningless Week 17 game in 2015 with a toe injury. The timing of his injury was unfortunate, as he was about to go off as the top target in the offense in Weeks 11-14 with Alshon Jeffery suspended four games for PEDs – he posted 3/61/1 in less than 30 minutes in Week 11. He finished the year with 47/486/4 receiving on 64 targets (73.4% catch rate, 10.3 YPC) in 10 games. He averaged 12.0 FPG, ranking 10th at the position just behind Jimmy Graham. He played on 83% of the snaps, had a 12.0% target share, and saw 6.84% of the team’s touches. Miller averaged an impressive 1.87 fantasy points per target – the league average for the position was 1.75. He missed all of 2014 with a foot injury, and he’s been stricken by injuries since he broke into the league in 2009. He’s under contract for just $1.5 million next season, so he’ll be back at the bargain price. Still, the Bears clearly need to find another viable option behind him or start developing one because his injury history is hard to ignore. Miller is a viable low-end TE1 when he’s healthy because he can move pretty well for the position, but we simply can’t trust him to stay healthy for long periods of time.
Detroit Lions (9-7; 2nd in NFC North)
Matthew Stafford – No one really knew how Stafford would fare in 2016, playing an entire season for the first time without Calvin Johnson in his eighth year. Well, Stafford seemed to thrive in an offense that didn’t revolve around just one star, instead spreading it around to five different weapons in Golden Tate, Theo Riddick, Eric Ebron, Marvin Jones, and Anquan Boldin. Stafford played well in OC Jim Bob Cooter’s offense that relied on quick-hitting, low-risk plays, and he set an NFL record with eight fourth-quarter comebacks. The Lions running game didn’t give him any help after Ameer Abdullah went out of the lineup, as they didn't have a running back among the top 50 rushers in the league. However, it wasn’t all roses for Stafford, as his season and the Lions’ season went sideways after he dislocated the middle finger on his throwing hand in Week 14. He saw his interceptions spike from 5 in 12 games to 5 in his final five games, and the Lions lost those final five games, including to the Seahawks in the playoffs. Stafford completed 388/594 passes (65.3%) for 4327 yards (7.3 YPA), 24 TDs, and 10 INTs, and adding a career-best 37/207/2 rushing while playing every snap in 2016. He averaged 21.6 FPG, ranking 10th at the position behind Blake Bortles. Stafford threw for multiple TDs seven times, and he was at his best in Weeks 1-6, averaging 24.6 FPG with 14 of 24 TDs coming in that span. Stafford said after the season that he wouldn’t need surgery for his dislocated finger and that he’d be ready for their entire off-season program. He’s entering the final year of his contract in 2017, and the two sides will likely try to work a long-term contract before the start next season. Despite the change to a more efficient offensive approach, Stafford has been very consistent the last five seasons for fantasy, averaging between 20-23 FPG in that time. That puts him squarely in the low-end QB1 conversation, and we don’t see much changing heading into 2017.
Ameer Abdullah – Abdullah looked primed for a breakout second season, looking much more explosive and sure of himself in the first six quarters of 2016. Unfortunately, he severely sprained his foot in Week 2 and missing the rest of the season. There was some hope he might return late in the year, but he never received clearance although reports indicated that his foot was structurally sound. Abdullah’s injury absolutely killed the Lions’ running game. As a team, Detroit rushed for 100 yards in the two games Abdullah played in, a feat they accomplished just once in their final 14 games. The Lions didn’t have a single player hit 100+ rushing yards in a game for the third straight year under Jim Caldwell, and no Lion ranked among the top 50 rushers overall. Abdullah looked primed to break that streak if he had stayed healthy, finishing with 18/101/0 rushing (5.6 YPC) and 5/57/1 receiving in his one and a half games played. Abdullah said after the season that he believes he’ll be at 100% for the start of OTAs. GM Bob Quinn gave a vote of confidence to both Abdullah and Theo Riddick after the season, saying both players can be lead backs going forward. We clearly learned in 2016 that Riddick is better off as a receiving/change-of-pace back, as he easily wore down from a heavy workload without Abdullah. Ameer is a capable three-down back and the most talented option in this backfield for 2017. The Lions spent a second-round pick on Abdullah in 2015, and they’ll give him a chance to lead this backfield if he’s healthy. He looked ready to explode before his injury, so he has the potential to be a solid RB2 with Riddick factoring in behind him.
Theo Riddick – Riddick fantasy owners had a great run with him while he was healthy in 2016. With Ameer Abdullah going down in Week 2, Riddick stepped up as the lead back before a wrist injury ended his season in Week 13. Despite putting up good fantasy numbers, we clearly learned that Riddick is better off as a receiving/change-of-pace back. He easily wore down from a heavy workload without Abdullah, and he just wasn't a reliable between-the-tackles. With that said, he was their best option to handle the lead-back duties, with Dwayne Washington looking overwhelmed and Zach Zenner coming on late. The Lions didn’t have a single player hit 100+ rushing yards in a game for the third straight year under Jim Caldwell, and no Lion ranked among the top 50 rushers overall. Riddick finished the year with 92/357/1 rushing (3.9 YPC) and 53/371/5 receiving on 67 targets (79.1% catch rate, 7.0 YPR) in 10 games. Riddick averaged 16.2 FPG, ranking 8th at the position behind Devonta Freeman. He played on 65% of the snaps, saw an 11.9% target share, and had 21.04% of the team’s touches. Riddick scored more than 8.6+ FP in every game, and he had 4+ catches in 9 of his 10 games, so he needed to be in fantasy lineups every week. GM Bob Quinn gave a vote of confidence to both Riddick and Ameer Abdullah after the season, saying both players can be lead backs going forward. Ideally, the Lions want Riddick to go back to his complementary role behind Abdullah because he’s one of the best receivers out of the backfield. It will hurt his overall fantasy value, but Riddick will still be a valuable asset as a low-end RB2/flex in PPR formats because of his dynamic receiving ability.
Zach Zenner – The Lions backfield went sideways enough this season that Zenner became their lead back in the final two weeks of the season and in the playoffs. He played well in spurts and is fine as a depth option, but he proved that he’s not a weekly feature back. Ameer Abdullah’s season-ending foot injury early in the year tested the depth of this backfield, and Theo Riddick eventually wore down as the top back. The Lions gave plenty of chances to rookie Dwayne Washington in 2016, but Zenner proved to be the more effective option. He finished with 88/334/4 rushing (3.8 YPC) and 18/196/0 receiving (78.3% catch rate, 10.9 YPR), averaging 6.8 FPG in 14 games. Zenner saw 15.38% of the team’s touches and played on 42% of the snaps. Zenner averaged an impressive .90 fantasy points per touch – the league average for the position was .70. As the lead back in Weeks 16-17 and in the playoffs, Zenner posted 43/170/3 rushing and 12/120 receiving for 19.7 FPG in three games. He isn’t a special player, but he’s a reliable player to have at the bottom of the depth chart in case the Lions need him. Zenner and Washington will likely be in a battle for the #3 RB once again in training camp, with Zenner starting with a slight leg up since he played well at the end of the year.
Dwayne Washington – After Ameer Abdullah went out of the lineup, Washington was clearly the most talented between-the-tackles runner left on the roster. However, an ankle injury slowed him early in the season and general bad play kept him off the field late in the year. Washington showed the athleticism to be a factor back, but his vision proved to be atrocious and he had no feel for hitting the hole, earning him a spot on the bench behind Zach Zenner. Washington finished the year with 90/265/1 rushing (2.9 YPC) and 10/62/0 receiving on 15 targets (66.7% catch rate, 6.2 YPC), averaging 4.1 FPG in 12 games. He saw 14.51% of the team’s touches and played 31% of the snaps. Washington averaged a pathetic .49 fantasy points per touch – the league average for the position was .70. OC Jim Bob Cooter said after the season that Washington is “still learning how to play NFL football,” and we agree that he looked overwhelmed when he was on the field. We could easily see Washington be cut in training camp next summer, but he also has the talent to be a fantasy factor at some point in the future if he can start hitting the holes given to him.
Golden Tate – Tate became an afterthought in the offense through the first five weeks of the season, with Marvin Jones going absolutely bonkers in the early going. Eventually, Marvin faded with teams starting to press him off the line of scrimmage, and Matthew Stafford turned to his old reliable target Tate down the stretch. He regained his top form around midseason, turning back into the offensive chess piece that’s he’s been since he arrived in 2014. Tate ranked 88th among fantasy WRs in Weeks 1-5 with just 6.1 FPG (17/134/0 receiving) before exploding in Weeks 6-17, ranking 7th at the position with 17.5 FPG (74/943/4) in that span. He became an even more pivotal part of this passing game after Theo Riddick went out of the lineup early in Week 13, ranking 3rd at the position with 18.5 FPG (34/460/2). Overall, Tate finished the year with 91/1077/4 receiving on 135 targets (67.4% catch rate, 11.8 YPC) in 16 games. Tate averaged 13.9 FPG, ranking 20th at the position behind Dez Bryant. He played 84% of the snaps, saw a 22.9% target share, and had 13.21% of the team’s touches. It took a little bit of time, but Stafford and OC Jim Bob Cooter eventually realized that Tate was their #1 option in the passing game. The Lions tinkered with Jones as the top WR early last season, but he’s been exactly the same player – a #2/3 WR – for the last three years. Tate should be active from the get-go next season, and he’s averaged 93.3 catches per game the last three seasons, so lock him in as rock-solid WR2 who will go in the fourth or fifth round of fantasy drafts next summer.
Marvin Jones – Jones looked like one of the best WRs in football during the first month of the season, leading the league in receiving yards (408) and leading all WRs with 70.8 FP through three weeks. He kept afloat through Week 7, but he faded when opponents started to consistently jam him at the line of scrimmage. He hit 10+ FP just twice in his final eight games from Week 8-17. Golden Tate eventually took over as the top receiver here, and Jones saw 43.9% of his receiving yards and 40.8% of his FP come in the first three weeks of his season. He finished the year with 55/930/4 receiving on 103 targets (53.4% catch rate, 16.9 YPC) in 15 games, missing a game to a thigh injury. Jones averaged 11.5 FPG, tying Sterling Shepard for 43rd at the position. He played on 91% of the snaps, saw a 17.9% target share, and had 7.98% of the team’s touches. Jones wasn’t happy with the way his season ended, but he’s basically been the same player the last three seasons. He brings a little bit of juice downfield, and he’s a solid route runner to do some damage as an outside receiver. Jones is a solid #2/3 WR, but he showed in 2016 that he’s not dynamic enough to be a #1 WR. Jones is a solid fantasy bench piece for next season, but he doesn’t have much upside because the Lions ideally want him to be their #4 receiver behind Golden Tate, Eric Ebron, and Theo Riddick.
Anquan Boldin – Expectations were quite low for Boldin when the Lions signed him late in July, and he turned out to be a very pleasant surprise at 36 years old. Boldin came in right off the street to be a chain-mover in the middle of the field, and he turned into Matthew Stafford’s go-to guy in the red zone. He finished tied for second in red-zone targets (26) with Davante Adams, and Boldin scored his most TDs in a season since he was with Cardinals back in 2008. He finished the year with 67/584/8 receiving on 95 targets (70.5% catch rate, 8.7 YPC) in 16 games. Boldin averaged 10.8 FPG, ranking 47th at the position behind Marqise Lee. He played on 80% of the snaps, saw a 16.5% target share, and had 9.72% of the team’s touches. Boldin and Cordarrelle Patterson finished tied for last in YPC (8.7) among WRs with 50+ catches, so he didn’t do anything after the catch. It sounded like Boldin was leaning toward playing in 2017 after their Wild Card loss, "I haven’t sat down with my family at this point, but there’s still a passion that burns within me for football." Bolding hasn’t been a playmaker in two seasons, but he’s just fine as a #3, chain-moving WR like he was last season. The Lions will likely welcome Boldin back with open arms, but he’ll only have fantasy relevance if he continues to score TDs like he did in 2016.
Eric Ebron – Ebron, the 2014 #10 overall pick, had moments where he showed his physical and athletic dominance over defenders, but he once again had to many up and downs for a player with his skillset. Knee and ankle injuries hindered him throughout the preseason and regular season, forcing him to miss three games and he played through many others at less than 100%. His injuries clearly held him back, but that’s been a constant refrain in his three-year career. He’s yet to play in all 16 games and has missed eight games total. Ebron has been a complete non-factor down by the goal line early in his career, with just 1 receiving TD in 2016 and only 7 career receiving scores in three seasons. He saw just 7 red-zone targets, tying for 28th at the position, with Matthew Stafford opting to look for Anquan Boldin in the red zone instead – Anquan had a whopping 26 RZ looks. Ebron finished the year with a rushing TD and 61/711/1 receiving on 85 targets (71.8% catch rate, 11.7 YPC) in 13 games. He averaged 11.1 FPG, ranking 12th at the position behind Cameron Brate. Ebron played on 82% of the snaps, saw a 14.8% target share, and had 8.85% of the team’s touches. Ebron hasn’t lived up to his top-10 draft status yet, but he has steadily improved in his first three seasons, setting career highs in catches (61) and yards (711). There’s still plenty of hope for a breakout 2017 campaign if he can stay healthy and if Stafford actually starts to look for him in the red zone. He’ll once again be an upside-oriented fantasy pick next summer in the mid-to-late rounds just in case he finally puts it all together.
Green Bay Packers (10-6; 1st in NFC North)
Aaron Rodgers – Rodgers’ best years looked behind him at about midseason. He had an extremely shaky start to his season through Week 11 coming after an extremely shaky end to his 2015 campaign. Rodgers’ season flipped in a Sunday night loss to the Redskins in Week 11, catching on fire in the second half of the season. Rodgers made more plays from the pocket and started to trust his receivers more, even playing through calf and hamstring injuries in that time – which may have contributed to his cleaner play by keeping in the pocket. He had an eight-game stretch with an interception from Week 11 through the Wild Card Round, and he had 18 TDs to 0 INTs in his final seven regular season games. The only negative in that time was his TD-less performance in Week 15, which probably cost quite a few fantasy owners in the playoffs. Rodgers’ 36-yard sideline pass to Jared Cook against the Cowboys in the Divisional Round will go down in Packers lore. He lost three fumbles in the first six games and didn’t lose a single fumble in the final 13 games. Without a running game in 2016, HC Mike McCarthy put the entire offense on Rodgers’ shoulders. The Packers had 40.3% run rate through Week 5 with Eddie Lacy, before dipping to 33.6% in Weeks 6-19 for a season long average of 35.3%, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Rodgers didn’t miss a beat with his pal Jordy Nelson, connecting for 14 TDs, and he developed chemistry with Davante Adams after his disastrous second season in 2015. Rodgers completed 401/610 passes (65.7%) for 4428 yards (7.3 YPA), 40 TDs, and 7 INTs, and adding 67/369/4 rushing in 16 games. He averaged 27.6 FPG, finishing as the top fantasy QB ahead of Drew Brees. Rodgers averaged a ridiculous .73 fantasy points per pass attempt – the league average was .53. Regardless of position, Rodgers was arguably the best player in the league in his 32-year-old season. This passing game could arguably improve in 2017 with Adams, Geronimo Allison, and Jared Cook (if he stays) getting another year in the system, and Nelson will be another year removed from his surgery. The top off-season priorities for the Packers will be to upgrade their running game and secondary, so there’s a chance they play in fewer shootouts next season. Still, it looks like Rodgers will be the no-doubt top fantasy QB drafted next season.
Ty Montgomery – Montgomery will likely ditch his #88 jersey to become a permanent RB this off-season. HC Mike McCarthy said as much at the end of the season, “He’s a running back. He wants to change his number.” The only scenario that could halt Montgomery’s switch to RB would be if the Packers cut Randall Cobb this off-season, but Cobb is a favorite of McCarthy. The Packers were a total mess at RB after Eddie Lacy (ankle) went down for the season, and James Starks was a total disaster all season long. Montgomery made the switch to RB in Week 7 against the Bears, and he proved to be quite slippery as a runner and of course he was a good receiver. He was shaky in pass protection and couldn’t move the pile between the tackles, which isn’t exactly shocking on either counts. The wear and tear of the position eventually caught up to him in the NFC Championship, leaving early in the game with a rib injury. The Packers had 40.3% run rate through Week 5 with Lacy, before dipping to 33.6% in Weeks 6-19 for a season long average of 35.3%, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Montgomery finished the year with 77/457/3 rushing (5.9 YPC) and 44/348/0 receiving on 56 targets (78.6% catch rate, 7.9 YPR) in 15 games. Montgomery averaged 9.5 FPG, ranking 39th at the position behind Jerick McKinnon. He played on 41% of the snaps, saw a 9.9% target share, and had 17.41% of the team’s touches. Montgomery averaged .36 fantasy points per snap – the league average for the position was .24. The Packers will likely bring in some help for the backfield through the draft and/or through free agency. Montgomery filled in admirably as their top back, but he clearly showed he doesn’t have the body type to take on the toll of being a lead back. The Packers will likely look to use him as a complementary back next season. He’ll probably lose his WR status for fantasy next season, which hurts his value some, but he’ll still be a fantasy bench piece and a potential flex option in PPR formats.
Eddie Lacy – Lacy’s battles with the scale will likely spell the end of his time in Green Bay this off-season. He did put in an effort to lose weight last off-season, but he had seemingly put all the weight back on by the time Week 1 rolled around. His weight issue surely didn’t help when he injured his ankle in Week 5, which resulted in surgery and the end to his season. The Packers had a 40.3% run rate through Week 5 with Lacy, before dipping to 33.6% in Weeks 6-19 for a season long average of 35.3%, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Lacy finished with 71/360/0 rushing (5.1 YPC) and 4/28/0 receiving on 7 targets (57.1% catch rate, 7.0 YPR), averaging 8.6 FPG in five games. Lacy played on 49% of the snaps and saw 10.79% of the team’s touches. Lacy averaged a pathetic .57 fantasy points per touch – the league average for the position was .70. He didn’t score a single TD after coming into the year averaging .63 TDs per game in his first three seasons (29 TDs in 46 games). HC Mike McCarthy said at the end of January that he would love to re-sign Lacy and that the 26-year-old RB was still recovering from his ankle surgery. The Packers are in a bit of bind at RB heading into the off-season, so there’s a chance they could bring him back. The Packers should turn the page on Lacy and look for a new lead back in the draft or free agency. It’s time to let Lacy be some other team’s headache. Either way, Lacy will have to sign a one-year, prove-it deal heading into 2017.
Christine Michael – Is it safe to say yet that Michael will never quite live up to his tantalizing talent? The fourth-year back is clearly an explosive runner and can be a dominant player for stretches of time, but he’s proven many times to be too erratic and unreliable. Michael played well early in the season with the Seahawks, but his play started to tail off and they seemingly couldn’t wait to cut him once Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise got healthy before Week 11. The Packers quickly snatched him up with all their RB problems, but he struggled to pick up the offense and didn’t always follow the play and his blockers, common complaints about Michael over the years. He finished the year with 148/583/1 rushing (3.9 YPC) and 22/107/1 receiving (4.9 YPR) in 15 games - nine with the Seahawks and six with the Packers. Michael actually averaged .35 fantasy points per snap – the league average for the position was .24. He also averaged .82 fantasy points per touch – the league average for the position was .70. The Packers likely saw enough of Michael to know that they should quickly move on from him this off-season. Michael is talented, so some team will likely bring him in to compete for a backup job on a one-year deal this off-season.
James Starks – What happened to Starks? He’s been a reliable backup his entire career, but he hit a wall in 2016 when the Packers needed him the most with Eddie Lacy going down for the year in Week 5. Starks danced too much in the backfield and there wasn’t enough downhill running from him, and he also looked shaky in pass protection and as a receiver. Starks had a truly awful season, struggling to get over an early season knee injury and eventually undergoing surgery. He didn’t look any better when he returned to the lineup in Week 10, and he soon found himself on the bench behind Ty Montgomery and Christine Michael. He then suffered a concussion in a car accident before Week 15, and he didn’t play the rest of the season. He finished with 63/145/0 rushing (2.3 YPC) and 19/134/2 receiving on 25 targets (76.0% catch rate, 7.1 YPR), averaging 6.8 FPG in 9 games. Starks played on 44% of the snaps and had 11.80% of the team’s touches. The Packers have plenty of decisions to make in this backfield, including if they want to bring the 31-year-old Starks back in 2017. They could save $3 million by cutting him this off-season, but the Packers could also have a lot of turnover at the position with Lacy and Michael potentially gone, so they might elect to keep him around as a backup.
Jordy Nelson – Nelson understandably had a slow start to the season coming off a major knee injury and not playing in the preseason. He did have 5 TD catches in his first four games but it really took until Week 8 for him to get back to his old, explosive form. Nelson was the top fantasy WR from Week 8 on, averaging 21.8 FPG on 70/936/9 receiving. He was on a real roll before a rib injury in the Wild Card Round slowed in the postseason, although he did score a TD playing well below 100% in the NFC Championship. Jordy led all WRs in red-zone targets (36) and in TD catches (14). Nelson didn’t miss a beat with Aaron Rodgers down by the goal line, and he still knew how to use size to shield away defenders in the end zone. Nelson and Rodgers combined for 15 TDs in their 18 games together, with an average distance of 9.9 yards, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He finished the year with 97/1257/14 receiving on 152 targets (63.8% catch rate, 13.0 YPC) in 16 games. Jordy averaged 19.2 FPG, ranking 2nd at the position behind only Antonio Brown. He played on 93% of the snaps, saw a 24.7% target share, and had 13.96% of the team’s touches. Nelson averaged an impressive 2.02 fantasy points per target – the league average for the position was 1.93. The only real gripe about Nelson’s season was that he didn’t create after the catch like we’ve seen in the past, averaging just 13.0 YPC in 2016. He’s never averaged below 15.2 YPC since he broke out in 2011 and his average from 2011-14 was 16.1 YPC. There’s a chance that Nelson could actually be better a full year removed from his 2015 knee surgery, but he didn’t show nearly the same juice after the catch in 2016. He’ll also be 32 years and entering his 10th season, so the days of him averaging 15+ YPC may be over. Nelson will be drafted as a WR1 next summer, and we can’t see him slipping out of the top 20 picks.
Davante Adams – Adams was one of the worst regular starting WRs in the league as a second-year player in 2015. Soooooo everyone saw him blossoming into one of the best #2 WRs in the league in 2016. He looked like a completely different player in his third season, coming to camp in better shape and looking like a more determined player who knew it was a make-or-break season. Adams didn’t wow anybody with his speed or his explosiveness, but he did lead the team with 6 plays of 35+ yards. He was able to get open with his quick feet and improved technique, winning much more consistently on the outside. Adams still dropped way too many passes, including 3 dropped TD passes in Weeks 15-16, but his hands were much improved from his disastrous 2015. He finished the year with 75/997/2 receiving on 121 targets (62.0% catch rate, 13.3 YPC) in 16 games. Adams averaged 15.4 FPG, tying with Brandin Cooks for 10th at the position. He played 84% of the snaps, saw a 19.5% target share, and had 10.79% of the team’s touches. After being one of the most inefficient WRs last year, Adams did a complete 180 by averaging an impressive 2.06 fantasy points per target – the league average for the position was 1.93. He tied Anquan Boldin for the second most red-zone targets (26) behind teammate Jordy Nelson (36). Adams also tied with Antonio Brown and Mike Evans for second in WR TDs (12) behind Nelson (14). Adams was a boom-or-bust option from Week 11-17, with three games of 20+ FP and three games under 8 FP. He did have a spectacular run through the playoffs with Nelson out or limited with a rib injury, posting 16/217/2 receiving and averaging 16.6 FPG. Adams’ breakout season came a year later than most expected after being overdrafted before the 2015 season because of Nelson’s season-ending knee injury. Adams will be just 24 years old next season, and he’s now in the good graces of QB Aaron Rodgers. Also, Randall Cobb has regressed the last two seasons and Nelson will be 32 years old in 2017, so Adams is going to be pivotal part of this passing game for years to come. He’s locked in as a WR2 in drafts next summer, likely going in third or fourth round.
Randall Cobb – Cobb has been just an above average receiver the last two seasons, and he’s only come through for fantasy in one of the last four years (2014). He’s also now clearly the #3 WR in this offense behind Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams. Cobb has taken plenty of hits as receiver, returner, and runner over the last six years, so it’s fair to wonder if his small frame (5’10”, 192 pounds) is starting to break down. He’s still capable of creating mismatches out of the slot with his quickness, but his body didn’t fully cooperate with hamstring and ankle injuries this season. Cobb ranked as the #12 fantasy WR through Week 7, hitting 12+ FP in five of his first six games before a hamstring forced him to miss a game and slowed him down after that. Cobb didn’t 12+ FP in his final seven regular season games in Weeks 9-15. However, Cobb did play well in the playoffs after missing Weeks 16-17 with his ankle injury, posting 18/260/3 receiving for a 20.7 FPG average. He finished the year with 60/610/4 receiving on 84 targets (71.4% catch rate, 10.2 YPC) in 13 games, missing time because of ankle and hamstring injuries. Cobb averaged 11.7 FPG, ranking 41st at the position behind Cole Beasley. He played on 76% of the snaps, saw a 13.6% target share, and had 8.63% of the team’s touches. Cobb is being paid like a star at $8.6 million next year, the third-highest salary on the team, but he hasn’t exactly been playing up to that production the last two seasons. He is a favorite of HC Mike McCarthy, but the Packers will likely ask him to take a pay cut, and the team has a little more leverage now because of Geronimo Allison’s play at the end of the year in his place. Cobb will be just 27 years old next season, but he hasn’t been dynamic out of the slot the last two years, averaging 10.4 YPC compared to his 14.1 average in 2013-14. Cobb is fantasy relevant when he’s at peak physical condition, but he’s been breaking down too much lately, which makes him more of a WR3/4 heading into drafts next summer.
Geronimo Allison – Allison came out of nowhere to be a factor down the stretch when Randall Cobb went out of the lineup with an ankle injury. Allison went undrafted out of Illinois, but he never seemed to be overwhelmed by any situation as a rookie in some big spots. Allison showed good body control and hands and had a surprising second gear for his size (6’3”, 202 pounds). He caused mismatches with his size out of the slot, and he instantly connected with Aaron Rodgers because of his knack to get open in scramble modes. Allison finished the year with 12/202/2 receiving on 22 targets (54.5% catch rate, 16.8 YPC) while playing 28% of the snaps. Playing in Cobb’s place in Weeks 16-17, Allison posted 8/157/1 receiving, providing a couple key catches for the Packers to lock up the NFC North title. Allison is facing marijuana charges from a September arrest, so he could face NFL discipline next season. He jumped Jeff Janis on the depth chart as a rookie, and he’ll likely enter training camp as the #4 WR. The Packers and Cobb are likely headed to a dispute over the $8.6 million is due to make next season, and there’s an outside chance the team could cut him, which would obviously elevate Allison to a bigger role.
Jeff Janis – It’s pretty clear that workout-wonder Janis either really stinks, or he just really needs to get out of the Packers organization. The bad news for him is that he’s under contract through 2017, although he’s certainly not guaranteed to make it through training camp next summer. It’s tough to evaluate Janis at this point, but his route-running skills must still be raw with rookies Geronimo Allison and Trevor Davis quickly jumping him on the depth chart in 2016. Janis finished with just 11/93/1 receiving on 19 targets (57.9% catch rate, 8.5 YPC) while playing 25% of the snaps in 16 games. Janis hasn’t proven to be anything more than a special-teams player and a backup to this point in his career because he has just one skill with his straight-line speed.
Jared Cook – A change of scenery really helped Cook to tap into some of his potential in his eighth season. Cook had been stuck in purgatory early in his career with the Titans and Rams, so actually playing with an actual NFL-caliber QB helped a lot, let alone one playing with an all-time great in Aaron Rodgers. The Packers signed him to be a seam stretcher for this offense, and he did just that, especially late in the year and in the playoffs once he got healthy off his ankle injury. Rodgers developed some chemistry with Cooks as the season went along, trusting his great size (6’5”, 254 pounds) and large catch radius. His 36-yard catch along the sideline on a spectacular Rodgers pass in the Divisional Round will go down in Packers lore. Cook tore it up in the playoffs with Jordy Nelson missing a large chunk of the postseason, posting 18/229/2 receiving and averaging 17.6 FPG. He finished the season with 30/377/1 receiving on 51 targets (58.8% catch rate, 12.6 YPC) in 10 games, missing six games with a high-ankle sprain. He averaged 7.6 FPG, tying for 27th at the position with Jacob Tamme. Cook played 51% of the snaps and had an 8.3% target share. Cook averaged a pathetic 1.45 fantasy points per target – the league average for the position was 1.75. He bet on himself last season by taking a one-year, prove-it deal, and he earned a bigger contract with his play down the stretch. The Packers will make re-signing Cook a top priority, but he’ll likely be in the $5-8 million per year range now after signing a one-year, $2.75 million deal last off-season. Cook has never been a consistent fantasy option, but playing with Rodgers will have in the low-end TE1 conversation next summer. He certainly has some upside potential as we saw in the playoffs.
Richard Rodgers – Rodgers became the backup TE in 2016 with the Packers signing Jared Cook last off-season. When he was the starter in Weeks 5-10 when Cook was out of the lineup with an ankle injury, Rodgers posted just 14/119/0 receiving for 4.3 FPG in six games. Rodgers did come to training camp lighter, and he looked slightly more elusive with the ball in his hands, but he’s still a zero in the passing game. He finished the year with 30/271/2 receiving on 47 targets (63.8% catch rate, 9.0 YPC), averaging 4.3 FPG and playing 55% of the snaps in 16 games. Rodgers averaged just 1.54 fantasy points per target – the league average for the position was 1.75. Cook averaged 12.6 YPC compared to Rodgers’ 9.0 average, which is the main reason why Cook played more. Rodgers isn’t on the fantasy radar heading into 2017, even if the Packers are unable to re-sign Cook this off-season.
Minnesota Vikings (8-8; 3rd in NFC North)
Sam Bradford – The Vikings traded for Bradford just eight days before their season opener after Teddy Bridgewater suffered a catastrophic knee injury. Just 15 days later, Bradford was leading the Vikings to an impressive Sunday Night Football victory over the Packers in Week 2. They looked like a team of destiny through five weeks, but the wheels eventually came sputtering off. They had no running game to speak of, OC Norv Turner resigned midseason, and Bradford played behind a revolving door along their offensive line. He got sacked a staggering 37 times, and new OC Pat Shurmur went to a short-passing attack to keep him upright. The move to a short-passing game helped Bradford set a NFL record for completion percentage at 71.6%. Not surprisingly, he had the shortest average throw by depth at 6.6 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. Only Alex Smith (6.9) had an average depth below 7.0 yards. He was actually an accurate downfield thrower when called up on, which wasn’t often, with Adam Thielen leading the league with a 70.4% catch rate on deep passes. Bradford completed 395/552 passes (NFL record 71.6%) for 3877 yards (7.0 YPA), 20 TDs, and 5 INTs in 15 games. He averaged 18.7 FPG, ranking 25th at the position behind Alex Smith. Despite his impressive completion percentage, Bradford averaged a measly .51 fantasy points per pass attempt – the league average was .53. He threw for multiple TDs just five times, and he fell below 16 FP six times. Bradford took a pounding behind their O-line, but he played in every game once be became the starter in Week 2 for his healthiest campaign since 2012. HC Mike Zimmer said that Bradford has earned the right to be the starter next season, and the Vikings could look to lock him up long term. If the Vikings O-line improves next season, the Vikings should be able to attack downfield more. And Bradford has enough weapons in Stefon Diggs, Thielen, and Kyle Rudolph to consistently work his way into the streaming conversation.
Teddy Bridgewater – Bridgewater suffered a gruesome, non-contact injury late in training camp before the start of his third season. He tore multiple ligaments, including his ACL, and dislocated his knee, which ended his 2016 season and has his 2017 season also in jeopardy. He underwent surgery in September, and there’s hope that he’ll resume his career at some point. The Vikings traded a king’s ransom (a 2017 first-round pick and a 2018 fourth-round pick) to the Eagles for Sam Bradford, and Bradford is now locked in as the starter for at least 2017 and possibly beyond. Getting Bridgewater back to 100% is the top priority for the Vikings, so they won’t be in a rush to get him back on the field. HC Mike Zimmer said after the season that he didn’t know when Bridgewater would be back, and there’s very little optimism within the organization that he’ll play at all in 2017. The Vikings could exercise his fifth-year option to keep him around through 2018, but this is now Bradford’s job to lose, especially since Bridgewater’s ally Norv Turner is no longer around.
Adrian Peterson – Peterson’s prolific career with the Vikings is likely over after playing just three games in 2016. He said he tore 90% of his meniscus in Week 2, and had the injury fully repaired through surgery. Peterson came back three months later in Week 15 but clearly wasn’t ready, suffering a groin injury in his return and missing the final two games of the year. He finished with 37/72/0 rushing (1.9 YPC) and 3/8/0 receiving on 6 targets (50.0% catch rate, 2.7 YPR), averaging a miserable 3.7 FPG while playing 47% of the snaps in three games. AP looked sluggish behind this terrible Vikings O-line when he did play. Peterson has a contract showdown looming with the Vikings, and the two sides likely won’t find any kind of middle ground. AP is due $18 million but he won’t cost a single dime against the salary cap next year if they cut him, and both sides appear ready to move on. AP said after the season he’d be interested in playing for the Texans, Giants, and Buccaneers, but Tampa is the only location that seems like a remote possibility. Peterson isn’t guaranteed to have much of a market this off-season as a 32-year-old RB who has lost two out of his last three seasons. In the one season he did play in that span, he did lead the league in rushing yards in 2015. Peterson is going to go down as one of the all-time greats at the position, but he’ll have to show he’s willing take a lesser role next season and it will likely have to be in an offense that runs a lot of 12 and 21 personnel.
Jerick McKinnon – McKinnon was once again thrust into a huge role with Adrian Peterson (knee) out of the lineup for most of the year for the second time in his first three seasons. And once again, McKinnon failed to impress in his extended audition as the top back. He did flash his speed and game-break ability at times, but he didn’t exactly have ideal situation to break out playing behind one of the worst O-lines in the league. He also admitted to playing banged up for most of the year, despite showing up on the injury report just three times with an ankle/foot injury. His best rushing day came in Week 17 with 89 yards, and QB Sam Bradford finally got him involved as a receiver late in the year. McKinnon has struggled as a poor pass blocker, but they figured out the best way to hide his deficiency was by throwing him the ball, averaging 5.2/35.3/.33 receiving per game in Weeks 12-17. He finished the year with 159/539/2 rushing (3.4 YPC) and 43/255/2 receiving on 53 targets (81.1% catch rate, 5.9 YPR) in 15 games. McKinnon averaged 9.8 FPG, ranking 38th at the position behind Charles Sims. He played on 52% of the snaps, saw a 9.2% target share, and had 26.75% of the team’s touches. McKinnon could easily be the top back here next season depending on what the Vikings decide to do this off-season. They have big decisions to make with Peterson and essentially on McKinnon with three seasons now in the books. He’s likely best of working as a change-of-pace back in the future, and we think the Vikings will likely look for a lead-back type in the draft or in free agency for McKinnon to complement next season.
Matt Asiata – The fact that Asiata played a major factor in the offense for the second time in three years should tell you that the Vikings struggled to run the ball. Adrian Peterson played in just three games last season, giving way to Jerick McKinnon and Asiata behind this terrible Vikings O-line. He finished with 121/402/6 rushing (3.3 YPC) and 32/263/0 receiving on 38 targets (84.2% catch rate, 8.2 YPR) in 16 games. Asiata averaged 8.4 FPG, tying Shane Vereen for 47th at the position. He played on 39% of the snaps and had 20.26% of the team’s touches. He was their most effective pass protector, which earned him some additional playing time. He’s never been much of a runner, but he struggled more than ever in short-yardage situations and had a career-worst 3.3 YPC. Asiata averaged an impressive .33 fantasy points per snap – the league average for the position was .24. He also averaged .88 fantasy points per touch – the league average for the position was .70. Asiata certainly isn’t a special player, but he’s a valuable player to the Vikings because of his all-around contributions as a short-yardage back, as a receiver, as a fullback, and as a special-teams contributor. He’ll likely be back here to vulture TDs and catches away from whoever is the lead back in this offense next year.
Stefon Diggs – Diggs has flashed star potential in his first two seasons, leaving defenders in his dust at times with his route running and elite quickness. He had four monster games with 21+ FP and set an NFL record with consecutive 13-catch games in Weeks 9-10. But as has become the case all too much, he completely disappears too much for our liking to be seriously considered as one of the league’s best WRs. He fell below 10 FP in six of his 13 games, which is tough to swallow for a WR1/2. Diggs has played poorly when he’s not at 100% health, and he’s dealt with a myriad of injuries in his first two seasons. He missed six games in his first two years, including three contests in 2016 because of groin, knee, and hip issues. Diggs finished the year with 84/903/3 receiving on 112 targets (75.0% catch rate, 10.8 YPC) in 13 games. He averaged 14.9 FPG, ranking 13th at the position behind Larry Fitzgerald. He played on 81% of the snaps, saw an 18.8% target share, and had 11.13% of the team’s touches. They did move Diggs around the formation more this season, seeing more time in the slot, and the offense ran through him at times with Adrian Peterson out of the mix. The Vikings couldn’t run the ball or protect Sam Bradford behind a shoddy O-line, and the offense turned into a short-passing attack once Pat Shurmur took over the playcalling at midseason. Diggs could be the key to this offense once again next season with the Vikings expected to move on from AP. He’ll still be the most talented option in this passing game even with Kyle Rudolph and Adam Thielen emerging in 2016, and first-round pick Laquon Treadwell turned out to be completely ill-prepared for the big leagues. Diggs will likely be drafted as a low-end WR2 in the 40-60 pick range, but if he can stay healthy and play consistently when banged up, he does have potential to be a high-end WR2 in his second season with Bradford.
Adam Thielen – Thielen won plenty of fantasy championships in Week 16 for any owners that were bold enough to use him. He posted a ridiculous 12/202/2 receiving against the Packers, good for the third-best fantasy game of the year (44.6 FP) behind only Le’Veon Bell in Week 14 (51.8) and Julio Jones in Week 5 (48.0). Thielen’s impressive Week 16 performance capped a breakout season for the third-year UDFA WR out of Minnesota State-Manakato. He fell 33 yards of becoming the first Viking to hit 1000 receiving yards since Sidney Rice did it all the way back in 2009. Thielen finished with 69/967/5 receiving on 92 targets (75.0% catch rate, 14.0 YPC) in 16 games. He averaged 12.5 FPG, tying with Allen Robinson for 32nd at the position. He played on 75% of the snaps, saw a 15.9% target share, and had 9.14% of the team’s touches. Thielen averaged an impressive 2.14 fantasy points per target – the league average for the position was 1.93. He led the team with 16 plays of 20+ yards, and according to Pro Football Focus, Thielen led all NFL WRs by catching 70.4% of his deep targets despite playing in an offense allergic to throwing downfield with Sam Bradford constantly under siege. He had a particularly strong finishing kick for his fantasy owners – which coincided with a Stefon Diggs swoon – scoring 10+ FP in seven of eight games in Weeks 9-16. He played a much bigger role than anyone would’ve expected after the Vikings drafted Laquon Treadwell in the first round last spring. But he won the job because of his reliable hands, his improved route running, and his long speed. The Vikings will need to properly tender the restricted free agent or they could risk losing him to an offer sheet from another team, like how the Bills lost Chris Hogan to the Patriots last off-season. Treadwell should push for more playing time this off-season, but Thielen is locked in as the #2 WR and as the top outside threat entering the preseason. He’s setting up to be a late-round flyer in fantasy drafts next summer.
Laquon Treadwell – The Vikings wanted a big X receiver for Teddy Bridgewater in Norv Turner’s vertical attack, and they thought they had their guy when they used a first-round pick on Treadwell. Well, Treadwell couldn’t get out of his own way to get on the field as a rookie, Bridgewater suffered a gruesome knee injury in training camp that could knock him out until 2018, and Turner resigned as OC in early November. It was that kind of season for the Vikings. Treadwell finished with just a 15-yard catch on 3 targets while playing 17% of the snaps in nine games. Ankle, hamstring, knee, and thumb injuries did dog him during his rookie season, but his inability to adjust to the pro game is what held him back the most. Treadwell made one start on Thanksgiving Day, dropping a pass which was intercepted but was negated by a defensive pass interference call. He didn’t see another target and barely played after that play. He played just 80 snaps, the fewest by a first-round WR since A.J. Jenkins in 2012, who played in his final game two years later in 2014. It’s way too early to label Treadwell a bust, but he’s well on his way if he doesn’t get on the field consistently next season. The Vikings ran predominantly 3-WR sets last season, and Treadwell will get his chances to earn a spot on the outside, even if they keep Adam Thielen around to play with Stefon Diggs. He’ll need a big off-season and preseason to get on the fantasy radar next summer.
Cordarrelle Patterson – The league’s best returner kick returner (31.7 yards per return, 1 TD) added some duties in 2016, working as a receiver and as a gunner on the punt team. Still, Patterson hasn’t developed into a big-time receiver like the Vikings had hoped he would when they drafted him in the first round of 2013. He’s still only an underneath receiver, finishing with as many 20+ yard catches (4) as plodding RB Matt Asiata. Patterson and Anquan Boldin finished tied for last in YPC (8.7) among WRs with 50+ catches. Patterson finished the year with 52/453/2 receiving on 70 targets (74.3% catch rate, 8.7 YPC) in 16 games. He averaged 7.1 FPG, played on 50% of the snaps, and had a 12.1% target share. Patterson did say after the season that he liked playing for OC Pat Shurmur, who took over for Norv Turner in the middle of the season. Shurmur implemented a short-passing attack that fit, Patterson’s game much better, "It was good for me. I love when I get the ball in my hands and Pat likes to get the ball to me." Patterson is still a raw receiver entering his 26-year-old season, but he showed some progress in his fourth season. He has play-making ability and, in terms of usage, he’s a similar player to Tavon Austin, who netted a ridiculous four-year, $42 million contract. He also said at the end of January that he’s open to playing snaps at running back too. The Vikings are more concerned with bringing Adam Thielen back and getting Laquon Treadwell on track, so they won’t get into any kind of bidding war to keep Patterson around.
Kyle Rudolph – We’ve always been big fans of Rudolph’s size and athleticism, and he finally established himself as one of the league’s top receiving TEs in a career-best season. The Vikings went with a short-passing attack as the season went along because of terrible O-line play, and QB Sam Bradford showed more trust in him as the season went along. Rudolph saw a league-high 132 targets for the position, including a league-high 29 red-zone targets. He had a particularly strong finishing kick for his fantasy owners – which coincided with a Stefon Diggs swoon – ranking as the #2 fantasy TE in Weeks 12-17 with 16.6 FPG on 44/436/2 receiving in six games. Rudolph finished his career-year with 83/840/7 receiving on 132 targets (62.9% catch rate, 10.1 YPC) in 16 games. He averaged 13.1 FPG, tying with Zach Ertz for 3rd at the position. He played on 92% of the snaps, led the team with a 22.6% target share, and had a 10.99% of the team’s touches. Rudolph doesn’t have the best track record of staying healthy, but he’s now made it through 16-game seasons in consecutive years after playing just 17 games in 2013-14. He’s clearly a big part of this offense going forward, and he showed a great rapport with Bradford in their first season together. We can’t expect Rudolph to duplicate his 80+ catches in 2017, but he’s clearly on the radar as a TE1 in the mid-to-late rounds next summer.