Arizona Cardinals (7-8-1; 2nd in NFC West)
Carson Palmer – The Cardinals were expected to compete for a Super Bowl in 2016 – after all, they came within one game of representing the NFC in 2015. So there’s no doubt their 2016 season, when they didn’t even come close to making the playoffs, was a massive disappointment. In 15 games – missing one in October with a concussion – Palmer posted 365/598 passing for 4237 yards (61.0%, 7.09 YPA), with 26 TDs and 14 INT. With 21.3 FPG, he ranked 13th at the QB position. All in all, Palmer’s bottom line wasn’t awful, but he was constantly under siege behind a banged-up offensive line, and he was throwing to a WR corps that was decimated by injury and/or bad decisions (Michael Floyd). It led to inconsistency in Palmer’s play, and his ceiling was significantly lower than it was in 2015. Palmer opened 2016 with two top-12 weeks at the QB position. He would total just four the rest of the season combined. Given how consistent a top-12 option he was in 2015, Palmer being relegated to more streaming duty was a massive downfall for him. Palmer threw for 300 or more yards six times, but 12 of his 26 TDs came in those games, so he wasn’t exactly helping you out a ton when he threw for fewer than 300 yards. Nonetheless, he threw for fewer than 200 yards just once, so despite Palmer’s ceiling not being as consistently high as it was a year previous, his floor wasn’t enough to kill you if you rolled with him on a weekly basis. In all, Palmer made bad decisions too often, but he wasn’t helped by the team around him. His play may well be slipping as he edges closer to 40, but the Cardinals have no choice but to try to make one last run with him, if he chooses not to retire, that is (he is not expected to).
David Johnson – DJ is good. That’s really all there is to it. Something will have to go hideously wrong in 2017 if he isn’t the #1 overall pick for fantasy in basically any format. In 16 games, DJ posted 293/1239/16 rushing (4.2 YPC) and 80/879/4 receiving on 118 targets (11.0 YPR, 67.8% catch rate) to finish with 25.7 FPG. It ranked him #2 behind Le’Veon Bell, but keep in mind DJ was averaging 27.0 FPG before Week 17, which he left after just 8 touches with a knee injury (which looked a lot more serious than it was… DJ is reportedly fine with just a sprained MCL). In 16 games, DJ finished as a top-12 RB a staggering 14 times. He finished as the top overall RB (yes, #1) six times, which was almost as times than he finished outside the top five at the position (seven times). In games DJ started and finished, he had no fewer than 101 yards from scrimmage. DJ scored multiple TDs in eight games, and went scoreless in only six. And again, aside from the injury-shortened Week 17, DJ had 100 yards from scrimmage in every game, so even if he didn’t score a TD, he came through for you. Amazingly enough, despite his consistent 100-yard dominance, DJ didn’t have a single game with 200 yards from scrimmage. That’s seriously the biggest nitpick we can come up with in his incredible season. Even including his Week 17, DJ played 83.8% of Arizona’s offensive snaps. Johnson’s biggest regret from the year, as he has said on Twitter, was that he couldn’t finish a 1000-yard rushing, 1000-yard receiving season. Now he has a goal for 2017!
Andre Ellington – Ellington was useless for fantasy in 2016, even after Chris Johnson went down for the year. In 16 games, Ellington posted 34/96 rushing and 12/85 receiving on 17 targets. In all, he played just 13% of the offensive snaps for the club. The most interesting thing about Ellington is that he’s now entering free agency, and we wouldn’t at all be shocked if he looks to wind up somewhere else as a rotational back, where he has a bigger and more consistent role. Ellington turns 28 in February, so he’s still in his prime, and fortunately he hasn’t accumulated a ton of wear-and-tear over the last year or so. He could be someone to watch in 2017.
Larry Fitzgerald – It was refreshing to see that, despite the Cardinals’ receiving corps collapsing around him, Fitz continued to be one of the most productive possession receivers in the entire NFL in 2016. In 16 games (the eighth time in the last nine seasons Fitz has played a full year), Fitz posted 108/1028/6 receiving on 151 targets (9.5 YPR, 71.5% catch rate). He averaged 15.4 FPG, which ranked him tied for 10th among WRs in PPR leagues. Fitz turned in back-to-back 100-catch seasons at ages 32 and 33, making him the second-oldest-player to ever do so – only some guy named Jerry Rice did it at an older age. Fitz caught at least 3 passes in every game, and caught 5 or more passes in 13 of 16 games. He had 10 or more catches three times, though he went for 100 yards just once. Fitz’s ceiling was limited by his lack of TDs, and he didn’t even spread them out well – he scored 2 TDs in two different games, meaning he had 1 TD or more just four times in 16 games. Nonetheless, his huge target share (10 or more targets in seven of 16 games) meant his floor was pretty high. Fitz ranked as a top-12 WR in PPR just three times all year (despite finishing the year 10th overall), but four more times ranked as a top-24 option, and twice more on top of that top-36. So his usefulness for fantasy didn’t necessarily fall in line with his total season average, but there’s still no doubt that Fitz was the most productive Arizona WR in a really poor season for the position. Fitz has expressed his desire to return for 2017, which is great news. What’s clear is that he sure as hell can still play if he does indeed opt to suit up again.
John Brown – One of 2015’s breakout stars in the NFL’s most efficient passing offense, the common thought was that the electric deep threat Brown was due for an even bigger – or at least equally as big – 2016. But things got off to a bad start in training camp, when it took Brown a long time to get over a concussion (or, what team doctors thought was a concussion). When Brown finally got over those issues, he started experiencing chronic pain in his legs and hamstrings, and in October, he was finally diagnosed with a sickle-cell illness that appeared to be the root of all his issues. Brown just couldn’t shake them and produce on a consistent basis, however. Brown played in 15 games, but wasn’t targeted in two of those 15, and managed just 39/517/2 receiving on 69 targets (13.3 YPR, 56.5% catch rate) the year after going over 1000 yards receiving. He averaged 6.9 FPG, which ranked him tied for 87th among WRs. Brown went catchless in three games, had just 1 catch in five more, and ranked as a top-24 WR just three times. In all, he played just 56.4% of the Cardinals’ offensive snaps when active, and couldn’t even hold down a full-time role when Michael Floyd got released. Hopefully, Brown can learn to manage his illness and improve his quality of life above all, and return to a team that really needs him in 2017, especially if Larry Fitzgerald opts to retire.
J.J. Nelson – In ways, Nelson served the role that we figured John Brown would have. Playing in 15 games, Nelson posted 34/568/6 receiving on 73 targets (16.7 YPR, 46.6% catch rate). He averaged 9.4 FPG, which ranked him 65th among WRs. In all, Nelson played just 43.4% of the Cardinals’ offensive snaps, but that’s including playing just 10 total snaps over the first five weeks of the regular season. Once it became evident Brown’s sickle-cell illness and Michael Floyd’s inconsistency (and off-field issues) wouldn’t go away, Nelson got a bigger role later in the season. Nelson had five finishes as a top-36 WR on the year, all from Week 7 on. He was also a particularly useful player in the fantasy playoff weeks, ranking as the #8, #26, and #13 WR in PPR in Weeks 14 through 16, respectively. Nelson’s lone 100-yard performance came in Week 16, and that capped a streak of four straight games with a TD. At 5’10” (generously) and 160 pounds, Nelson is one of the NFL’s smallest WRs, but he has explosive speed, and that will serve him well as he tries to hold down a role into the future.
Jermaine Gresham – The odds were against the Cardinals having a fantasy-relevant tight end in 2016, but somehow, #BIGGRESH managed to go against conventional wisdom. Of course, that didn’t mean he was a start-worthy player on a consistent basis, but rather that he was involved enough that we couldn’t ignore him. In 16 games, Big Gresh posted 37/390/2 receiving on 61 targets (10.5 YPR, 60.7% catch rate). He ranked 39th among TEs with 5.5 FPG. Gresh had three top-12 TE finishes, all from Week 11 on, and saw at least 5 targets in six of the Cardinals’ final nine games. Of course, he never finished higher than 7th at TE, and with just eight top-24 TE finishes, it wasn’t like he was a dominant asset. Despite his decent finishes, Gresham reach 10 FP in a PPR league just three times. A free agent entering his age-29 season, Gresh may draw some interest from the Cardinals, but next year he’ll be little more than a streaming fantasy option.
Los Angeles Rams (4-12; 3rd in NFC West)
Jared Goff – To suggest that Goff’s rookie season in the NFL could have gone better would be a major understatement. Former coach Jeff Fisher was soundly criticized before the season when he opted to start Case Keenum over Goff as the Rams kicked off the 2016 campaign, but perhaps Fisher knew Goff was a “blank” left in the chamber. The #1 overall pick in last April’s draft, Goff played in eight games, making the final seven starts for the Rams, but went 0-7 as a starter and often looked lost in the process. In Goff’s seven starts, he went 112/205 for 1089 yards (54.5%, 5.3 YPA) with 5 TD and 7 INT. At 11.7 FPG, he ranked 34th among QBs over the final seven weeks of the regular season. Moreover, consider this – Goff played a nearly immaculate first half in New Orleans in Week 12, his second career start. He went 12/20 for 167 yards and 3 TDs, accounting for over one third of the total fantasy points he accrued on the entire season. Outside of that one half, Goff had 2 TDs and 7 INTs as a rookie. Playing behind a brutal offensive line, Goff was simply not used to the kind of pressure he saw, as he almost never played under center in college at Cal. Goff threw multiple INTs in three games, but multiple TDs just once. He accounted for more than 200 yards passing just twice in seven starts, but threw for under 150 in four of the seven. Additionally, Goff suffered a concussion in Week 15’s loss to the Seahawks. In all, it was a disastrous year. Now, we have to account for the fact that Goff simply was in a position to fail – because of the poor line, he also didn’t even have a functional run game to lean on (even with Todd Gurley back there). Nonetheless, Goff’s rookie season was historically bad, and it’s on young coach Sean McVay to get the most out of him. McVay did wonders with Kirk Cousins, but Goff didn’t even look the part of a proto-Cousins this year. The Rams must strengthen the team around him, starting up front, if Goff will have any shot to succeed.
Case Keenum – Keenum may not be good, but he certainly was better than Jared Goff in 2016. And if the goal of the Rams was to win games, Keenum was obviously the better choice for Jeff Fisher (who, coincidentally, didn’t win enough games to keep his job). Keenum started nine games for Los Angeles, and quarterbacked the Rams to their only four wins of the year. In those nine starts, he went 191/313 for 2169 yards (61.0%, 6.93 YPA) with 9 TD and 11 INT. He added 20/51/1 rushing to rank 26th among QBs with 17.3 FPG over his nine starts. However, despite starting just over half of the Rams’ games, Keenum turned in LA’s four highest-ranking QB weeks of the entire season, finishing four times as a top-20 QB – Goff never topped 22. Keenum wasn’t good, but he was competent, and that’s more than we can say for Goff. Fisher clearly knew Keenum was his best chance to keep his job, and when he finally went to Goff, that may have signaled the end of the Fisher tenure in Los Angeles. Keenum is a free agent, and with a new coach in Sean McVay in town, the Rams may choose to go another direction for their backup QB. However, GM Les Snead is still in place, and it may be well be in both the Rams’ and Keenum’s best interest to re-sign him. There’s obviously a chance a veteran is needed to make starts in Los Angeles, given how Goff played last year.
Todd Gurley – There were a good number of first-round busts in fantasy football in 2016, but none was bigger than Gurley. Playing behind one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines, Gurley had a disastrous season after his excellent 2015 rookie campaign. In 16 games (the only real positive stat of Gurley’s season), he posted 278/885/6 rushing (3.2 YPC) with 43/327/0 receiving on 57 targets (7.6 YPR, 75.4% catch rate) to rank 24th among RBs with 12.5 FPG. Yes, a guy who was consistently a top-5 fantasy pick ranked lower than the likes of Jay Ajayi, Spencer Ware, and Isaiah Crowell for fantasy. Gurley had no games of 100 yards rushing after posting five (in 13 games) as a rookie, and only once all season did Gurley manage 100 yards from scrimmage. While he ranked as a top-24 RB 10 times, he finished just once as a top-12 RB – fortunately, that was in Week 14 (and he “came through” with a #13 finish in Week 16 for those who managed to weather the storm all year). Gurley averaged above 4.0 YPC in just two of 16 games, and never topped 4.1. Behind an awful line, he often had nowhere to run, and by the end of the year the young back was looking shellshocked, sometimes missing holes that were there. No doubt, there is an element of blame that Gurley should receive for his poor year, but he was put in a position to fail from the beginning. The best thing we can say, again, is that he at least was a consistently top-24 RB, even one with a tragically low ceiling. And at a 73.8% snap share, he was an overwhelmingly “bell cow” type of back. He just needed that volume to succeed in any way possible. Another positive is that Gurley consistently showed he was a strong receiver, catching 3 or more passes nine times, all of which came from Week 4 on. Can new coach Sean McVay coax a big rebound year out of Gurley, and can GM Les Snead put a better line in front of his “star” back?
Kenny Britt – Given how disastrous the Rams’ season was from an overall standpoint, it’s amazing that Britt – a long-forgotten player whose talent had always outweighed his production – managed to put together a career year. In 15 games – missing Week 17 with a shoulder injury – Britt posted 68/1002/5 receiving on 111 targets (14.7 YPR, 61.3% catch rate). At 13.2 FPG, he tied for 25th at the WR position. Britt had nine games as a top-36 WR, five of which were as a top-24 WR. He hauled in at least 4 passes in 12 of 15 games, and had 10 or more FP in PPR leagues in 10 of 15 games. Unfortunately for Britt, as with the rest of the Rams’ offense, his production took a dip when Jared Goff took over as QB. Britt was the #21 overall WR with 14.6 FPG in Case Keenum’s nine starts, but was tied for 40th with 11.2 FPG in Goff’s seven starts. Obviously, he wasn’t useless by any stretch, but even Britt’s numbers fell off when the QB situation in Los Angeles went from bad to worse. Overall, Britt’s ability to weather that ridiculous storm – plus the incompetent coaching of Jeff Fisher – is about as impressive a resume-builder in a contract year we can think of. He will be entering his age-29 season in 2017, so he has some good years left, and his importance to the Rams last year cannot be overstated. GM Les Snead and new coach Sean McVay (an offensive whiz kid) should want Britt back to ease the transition into 2017 for Goff. But will Britt want to be back?
Tavon Austin – It’s getting harder and harder to be a Tavon truther these days. While we still maintain that Austin is a better player than the numbers indicate and he’s been held down mostly by bad coaching, he remains a frustrating fantasy player at best, and a useless one at worst. In 15 games – missing one late in the year with a chest injury – Austin posted 58/509/3 receiving on 104 targets (8.8 YPR, 55.7% catch rate). He added 28/159/1 rushing (5.7 YPC) to rank tied for 60th among WRs in PPR with 9.9 FPG. First, let’s get to the awful – Austin averaged an absolutely hideous 4.89 YPT, and averaged just 1.22 FP/target. Among WRs with 50 or more targets, only Philly Brown and Jermaine Kearse were worse. It’s amazing that a receiver who typically does his damage on screens and quick routes would only haul in 55.7% of his targets, but that happened with Austin. Certainly, poor QB play is to blame on some level, and perhaps a big level. But Austin has now spent four years in the NFL, playing with many different QBs, and has continued to be one of the least-efficient players at his position throughout that tenure. But 2017 will be his first year in the NFL he doesn’t have Jeff Fisher as his coach, and that’s got to count of something. With offensive whiz Sean McVay coming into LA, we did see some tantalizing performances from Austin that can get us excited – he actually had two top-12 WR weeks on the year, more than any other Ram receiver, including the more consistent and efficient Kenny Britt. We would hope McVay remembers how he deployed Jamison Crowder this past year with Washington, and also looks to the Chiefs’ usage with Tyreek Hill to see how a player like Austin can be successfully deployed. McVay’s presence means we have more positivity for Austin’s future than ever before, but he’s still been a big disappointment in his four-year career thus far.
Brian Quick – Quick is always going to be one of those “what if?” players. A shoulder injury cost him most of 2014 and he was severely limited in 2015, so in 2016 he was at his healthiest since 2013. And he actually turned in career numbers across the board, with a full 16-game schedule, and 41/564/3 receiving on 74 targets (13.8 YPR, 55.4% catch rate). Still, with just 7.2 FPG, Quick ranked 84th among WRs. He actually had a top-12 WR week in Week 4, but only twice more all year did he had a top-36 week. And Quick’s performance went completely in the crapper when Jared Goff took over at QB – Quick averaged just 4.2 FPG in Goff’s starts, as opposed to 9.6 FPG in Case Keenum’s starts. In all, Quick played 68.6% of the Rams’ snaps on the year, behind only Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin. A big guy who can run, Quick is entering his age-28 season in 2017, and more importantly, he’s entering free agency. We wonder if a change of scenery could make him a major free-agency bargain for a better team with a better QB situation.
Lance Kendricks – Kendricks has developed a deserved reputation as being nothing more than a fantasy nuisance. It’s hard to shake that after his 2016 season, in which he posted 50/499/2 receiving on 87 targets (10.0 YPR, 57.5% catch rate) to average 7.0 FPG, which ranked him 30th among all TEs. This was despite Kendricks playing 82.3% of the Rams’ offensive snaps and playing 16 full games, which made him overwhelmingly the Rams’ top TE. Other than a random three-game stretch beginning in Week 6, in which Kendricks turned in three consecutive top-10 TE finishes, he was utterly useless – he finished as a top-12 TE just once more (Week 12), and in fact just had three more games as a top-24 TE. So even in a 12-team league that requires 2 TEs, Kendricks was viable less than half the time. He has talent, and he is now playing in an offense under coach Sean McVay, who has done some awesome things with TEs in his time with Washington. But could Kendricks’ blocking ability be his calling card, while the intriguing Tyler Higbee gets more work in the passing game?
Tyler Higbee – An intriguing receiver, Higbee nonetheless was barely involved in 2016. The rookie played in 16 games, but hauled in just 11 of his 29 targets (37.9%) for 85 yards and a TD (7.7 YPR). This was all despite Higbee playing 40.2% of the Rams’ offensive snaps, so he had a not-insignificant role. The reason we’re highlighting him here? He’s a big guy who can really move, and new coach Sean McVay has experience with athletic TEs, notably Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis this past year in Washington. A lot needs to go right for Higbee to be impactful in 2017, including improvement at the QB position, but the coaching change at least puts him on the radar. We liked him as a prospect pre-draft.
Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1; 1st in NFC West)
Russell Wilson – It was an up-and-down year for both Wilson and the Seahawks, and while we wouldn’t say he was awful for fantasy by any stretch of the imagination, but he certainly didn’t live up to expectations. Playing in 16 games (which has become Wilson’s MO in his time in the NFL), Wilson posted 353/546 passing for 4219 yards (64.7%, 7.73 YPA) with 21 TDs and 11 INTs. He added 72/259/1 rushing (3.6 YPC) to rank tied for 18th at QB with 20.8 FPG (tied with Tyrod Taylor). Wilson’s career-lows in the rush department – all of them by far – were probably the biggest reason for his disappointing fantasy season, and also the easiest to explain away. For pretty much the entire season, Wilson was limited with knee and ankle sprains, most notably wearing a knee brace for his MCL sprain. But it was also clear that Wilson was getting more comfortable later in the year. Wilson had zero games of 20 or more rushing yards through Week 11, then topped 20 three times in the final six games of the year. Wilson had seven games in the top-12 at QB, but six of them were from Week 9 on. The problem was he still threw up some major stinkers, even once it was evident he was getting healthier – he threw 5 of his 11 INTs on the year in Week 14 alone, against Green Bay. Wilson was also plagued by one of the league’s worst offensive lines – no team spent fewer dollars on linemen than the Seahawks. Additionally, the run game was inconsistent, and he never had a reliable WR outside of Doug Baldwin (Tyler Lockett had an injury-plagued season of his own). The Seahawks must improve the line in front of Wilson, but Wilson still has Baldwin and TE Jimmy Graham, and if Lockett isn’t ready for 2017, at least Paul Richardson did some interesting things late. Wilson should bounce back in 2017.
Thomas Rawls – Rawls had a strange season, and though he finished the year as the Seahawks’ leading rusher still actually on the team, Christine Michael still out-rushed him overall. In nine games, Rawls posted just 109/349/3 rushing (3.2 YPC), adding 13/96 receiving on 17 targets to tie for 54th at RB with 8.4 FPG. Rawls’ year got off to a bad start overall – the serious ankle injury that ended his 2015 season lingered into the new year, and he was unavailable for much of Seattle’s off-season program. Then, after playing just two games at the start of the season (Weeks 1 and 2), Rawls missed seven games with a fractured fibula – was it a compensation injury for still playing on a bum ankle Rawls returned in Week 11, but the damage was already done for his fantasy value – his only performance as a top-24 RB came in Week 13, when he was more of a lineup fill-in type of player than anything else. In his nine games, Rawls averaged under 3.0 YPC five times, and was under 2.0 YPC in four of those five games. Then, down the stretch, he also suffered a concussion scare and a shoulder injury. Of course, he never looked healthier than he did during Seattle’s Wild Card playoff game, when he absolutely torched the Lions for 27/161/1. Then, in true Rawls fashion, he was barely involved in the Seahawks’ playoff loss to Atlanta, with 11/34 rushing. If it sounds like we’re waffling on Rawls, it’s because we are. It was such a strange season, with so many issues. Rawls was injured, the offensive line was terrible, Russell Wilson was banged up, and more. Rawls fortunately gets to go into his third season much healthier than he went into his second, which goes a long way. And he remains, at his best, an exceptionally violent runner. It’s just hard to reconcile the fact that he’s now missed 10 games in two seasons.
C.J. Prosise – It’s a shame we only got to see very little of Prosise in 2016, because when we did see him, he looked absolutely electric. Unfortunately for Prosise, he got off on a wrong foot in 2016, as he missed most of the Seahawks’ off-season program with groin and hamstring injuries, then missed four games from Weeks 2 through 6 with a wrist injury. From Weeks 8 through 11, though, he looked like an emerging star – he reached 14 FP in a PPR three times in this four-game span, ranking as a top-24 RB in each of those three games (topping out at #7 in Week 10). And his play of the year was a 72-yard TD in Week 11 with the Eagles… a game he left with a broken shoulder that ended his season. In all, Prosise played in six games. He totaled 30/172/1 rushing (5.7 YPC) and 17/208/0 receiving on 19 targets (12.2 YPR, 89.5% catch rate). The former college WR averaged 10.2 FPG in his short time on the field, which would have ranked him 37th among RBs if extrapolated to a full season. Unfortunately, just like Thomas Rawls, Prosise’s durability is a big concern, as coach Pete Carroll noted at the end of the season. But if he manages to stay on the field next year, he has absolutely titanic PPR upside.
Alex Collins – Collins was unique in 2016 for the Seahawks, at least in that he didn’t get hurt. Still, he played in just 11 games, and posted 31/125/1 rushing (4.0 YPC) and 11/84 receiving on 11 targets. He played just 19.5% of the Seahawks’ snaps when active. Collins is a grinder with a well-rounded game, and he flashed late in 2016, 21 carries for 106 yards over his final three games. Unfortunately, he is also competing with two other youngsters in Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise here, though their recent injury concerns could open up a path to success for Collins.
Doug Baldwin – Anyone who said Baldwin would have major TD regression from last year would have been right, as he went from 14 TDs in 2015 to 7 in 2016. But what many didn’t also build in was an overall improvement in Baldwin’s involvement in the offense overall. In 16 games, Baldwin posted 94/1128/7 receiving on 125 targets (12.0 YPR, 75.2% catch rate). At 15.9 FPG, he ranked 9th among all WRs. Combining this year with last, Baldwin became the first WR since Pro Football Reference started tracking targets in 1992 to have more than 70 catches and 1000 yards receiving with a 75% or higher catch rate in back-to-back seasons. It’s happened only six times in that time frame total, and of those six seasons, Baldwin has the first and third-highest YPR as well. There’s just no mistaking it, Baldwin is one of the most efficient WRs in the NFL, and his rapport with Russell Wilson is one of the best in the entire league. In 2016, Baldwin had six weeks as a top-12 WR, and all of them were in fact top-10 weeks (five were in the top 7). Keep in mind that Baldwin did this with Wilson having a very up-and-down year, in which he dealt with constant injury issues. Baldwin caught at least 4 passes in 14 of 16 games, and had 10 or more FP in 11 of 16. His floor was reasonably high, and he has a massive ceiling. We only wonder what could happen if Wilson is actually healthy for all of next season. For fantasy, Baldwin any time after the second round could be a total steal. He’s one of the best slot receivers – and overall receivers – in the game.
Tyler Lockett – 2016 was supposed to be a breakout year for Lockett, but like a lot of other Seahawks, injuries just completely derailed an interesting campaign, and now we wonder if they’re going to prevent him from getting onto the field in 2017, at least at the start. Lockett played in 15 games in 2016, but managed just 41/597/1 on 65 targets (14.6 YPR, 63.1% catch rate). Lockett tied for 75th among WRs with 8.3 FPG. Lockett actually had two finishes as the #3 overall WR in 2016 (Week 13, Week 15), but they came late in the year when it seemed like no one could trust him. That’s because overall, Lockett played just 56.1% of Seattle’s snaps when active. For most of the year, he dealt with a painful PCL sprain in his knee, and then his season ended in an ugly fashion in Week 16, when he suffered a brutal broken fibula and tibia. The Seahawks never really got the deep threat production from Lockett they expected, and Jermaine Kearse was the worst WR in the NFL for fantasy on a per target basis. Coach Pete Carroll says he expects Lockett to be ready for Week 1 in 2017, but that’s a long ways off, and Paul Richardson impressed during the postseason. The Seahawks may be wise to invest in some insurance at the WR position in 2017.
Paul Richardson – Richardson was barely involved during the regular season for Seattle, playing in 15 games and posting just 21/288/1 receiving on 36 targets (13.7 YPR, 58.3% catch rate). Eight of his 21 catches came over the final two weeks, as his role increased following Tyler Lockett’s broken leg. Then, he had a mini breakout in the playoffs. In two games, Richardson posted 131 yards and a TD on 7 catches (9 targets). In particular, his game against the Lions in the Wild Card Round was most impressive, as he caught 3 passes, but all 3 were of the spectacular variety (the TD was arguably the best catch all season, as he caught it around a defender). Richardson can really run, and it appears his four-game stretch in the limelight once Lockett went down gave him the opportunity to shine that he’s never really had. If Lockett is at all limited in his return from a broken leg – and heck, even if not – Richardson could be the favorite to start as a deep threat for Seattle in 2017.
Jimmy Graham – We’ve seen patellar tendon injuries end careers in the recent past, and if not, at least significantly alter them (Victor Cruz). So it was more than reasonable to assume Graham, after tearing his patellar tendon last November, would be seriously hard-pressed to have a productive 2016 season, at least in the early going. Well, all Graham managed to do is play in 16 games, and post 65/923/6 receiving on 94 targets (14.2 YPR, 69.1% catch rate). He averaged 12.1 FPG, which tied him with Rob Gronkowski for 8th at TE (of course, Graham played twice as many games as Gronk). Not only did Graham manage to play a full schedule, but he led all TEs with 30 or more catches in YPR (14.2). Graham had nine games as a top-12 TE, including three top-5 finishes, and the #1 overall TE finish in Week 9. He had three 100-yard receiving games, after reaching that point just twice in the previous two seasons. In all, he played 74.6% of the Seahawks’ offensive snaps on the year, which is remarkable (and keep in mind he played just 20.7% of the snaps in Week 1, as he was being eased back into action). So not only was Graham healthy a year after a devastating injury, but you can argue it’s the best he’s been since 2013. Graham is now entering his age-30 season (he turns 31 in November), so he may still be tough to trust overall, but his amazing recovery from the patellar injury should ensure he gets drafted as a top-6 TE in 2017.
San Francisco 49ers (2-14; 4th in NFC West)
Colin Kaepernick – The 49ers didn’t have many useful fantasy assets this year, but Kaepernick was one of them. The faded star started 11 games for Chip Kelly, starting in Week 6. In those 11 starts, Kaepernick posted 196/332 passing for 2241 yards (59.0%, 6.75 YPA) with 16 TD and just 4 INT. He added 69/468/2 rushing (6.8 YPC) to average 21.4 FPG, which ranked him 12th at the QB position. Despite starting just 11 games, Kap finished 2nd among QBs in total rushing (Tyrod Taylor, 580 yards). Kaepernick took over for an ineffective Blaine Gabbert in Week 6, and generally was a fantasy QB who could have led you to a championship. He had six top-12 finishes at the position, including #1 overall in Week 12 against Miami, when he threw for 296 yards and 3 TDs while also running for 113 yards. And in playoff Weeks 14-16, he had a nice run of finishes – #18, #10, and #6, respectively. Kaepernick’s fantasy numbers may have been artificially inflated by Kelly’s offense, an offense that had gotten career years out of Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, and Sam Bradford, but it’s hard not to be at least somewhat impressed by Kaepernick’s performance given the 49ers had absolutely nothing on the perimeter worth throwing to. Of course, Kaepernick turned in his start-worthy fantasy season with just one 300-yard passing game. He threw for under 200 yards in five of his starts, including a bizarre Week 13 game in Chicago, in which he had trouble gripping the ball in the snow and went just 1/5 for 4 yards before being pulled. But Kap also topped 50 yards rushing four times, including in two of his five starts with under 200 passing yards. Still armed with all the talent in the world, we wonder if Kaepernick showed enough to incoming coach Kyle Shanahan to get himself a shot at the starting gig in 2017. Our guess is no; this is an excellent build-up job for Shanahan and new GM John Lynch. But the fact that Kap is at least making us think about it is enough to consider his 2016 season a success.
Blaine Gabbert – Given that Gabbert isn’t good, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that he lost his job to Colin Kaepernick after just five starts, but once again, Gabbert has made at least something of himself in his NFL career, which is more than we could say looked likely a couple of years ago in Jacksonville. In five starts, Gabbert posted 87/150 passing for 890 yards (58.0%, 5.9 YPA) with 5 TD and 6 INT. He added 39/172/2 rushing (4.4 YPC) to rank tied for 25th in the first five weeks of the season with 18.4 FPG. Gabbert still has no clue what to do under pressure, and he’s often wildly inaccurate despite the fact that he throws a pretty-looking ball. But he’s mobile, and as he enters free agency, he’s at least put enough positives on tape to get a look as a backup elsewhere.
Carlos Hyde – When it comes to Hyde, it comes down to health. The third-year 49er RB had an excellent overall season in 2016, posting 217/988/6 rushing (4.6 YPC) and 27/163/3 receiving on 33 targets (6.0 YPR, 81.8% catch rate). He ranked tied for 10th among RBs (with Mark Ingram) with 15.1 FPG. But for the third time in three seasons, Hyde failed to play in 16 games, appearing in just 13 in 2016. Hyde missed Week 17 with a torn MCL, and earlier in 2016 missed two games with a shoulder injury. He has now missed a total of 14 games in three seasons, nearly a full-season’s worth of action. It’s frustrating, because in the games Hyde did play, he was excellent. He was a top-8 RB five times in 13 games, and was a top-24 RB in four more. There was more than a reasonable expectation that Hyde would be a useful RB2 for you at bare-minimum, and occasionally, he was a week-winning asset. Though he had just two 100-yard rushing games, he had three more with 100 yards from scrimmage. And in even three more, he had a TD without reaching 100 yards. So he had many paths to reaching his floor. Keep in mind he did this with a severe lack of talent around him in the offense, though it’s fair to be concerned that coach Chip Kelly – who coaxed a career year out of Hyde – is gone. The good news is that the incoming coach is Kyle Shanahan, and Shanahan is one of the NFL’s most effective and creative run game coaches. And as the offense stands now, Hyde is by far the Niners’ most appealing building block on offense for Shanahan. We would expect to see Shanahan add someone else to the fold – like a Tevin Coleman type – given the lack of depth here, but if Hyde can stay on the field, the outlook in a Shanahan offense is great for a player like him.
Jeremy Kerley – Kerley is a solid slot receiver, but when he is a team’s most productive receiver, that’s a huge issue. Playing in 16 games, Kerley posted 64/667/3 receiving on 113 targets (10.4 YPR, 56.6% catch rate). With 9.3 FPG, he ranked tied for 66th among WRs. Kerley led all 49ers in top-24 weeks as a WR… with three. He had the Niners’ only top-12 week (a #9 finish in Week 5), and with his #13 finish in Week 4, he had San Fran’s top two overall finishes for the year at the position. Kerley’s 102 receiving yards in Week 9 were one of only two 100-yard games for San Francisco WRs (Quinton Patton had the other), and he had eight games with 5 or more catches. Again, if it seems like were really reaching for positives here, it’s because we are. But compared to his teammates, Kerley was Marvin Harrison. He’s a free agent, and he’s done enough to garner some interest, but he’s not likely to command big dollars. At the least, he’s still just 28.
Torrey Smith – Torrey needs to get out of the Bay Area… unless new coach Kyle Shanahan can convinced him the times are a-changin’. In the second year of his big-money contract with the Niners, Smith had a miserable year. In 12 games, he hauled in 20/267/3 receiving on 48 catches (13.4 YPR, 41.7% catch rate). With 5.4 FPG, he ranked 106th in the NFL. Even Chip Kelly, who got a career year out of DeSean Jackson back in 2013, couldn’t coax a big year out of Torrey and his mediocre QB play. Moreover, Torrey missed the first four games of his career, one with a shoulder injury, and three more with a concussion. He caught more than 3 passes in no games, and was held catchless three times. It’s a new situation under Shanahan, but Torrey’s name was swirling in trade rumors mid-season, and he himself has acknowledged the potential advantages of a change of scenery.
Vance McDonald – It’s kind of rare that a guy who caught 24 passes can be considered a team’s most exciting option in the passing game, but that’s where we’re at with these 49ers. McDonald played in 11 games and posted 24/391/4 receiving on 44 targets (16.3 YPR, 54.5% catch rate). With 7.9 FPG, he ranked 26th among TEs. McDonald missed two games early in the year with a hip injury, then missed the final three with a shoulder injury – he was injured literally two days after signing a five-year, $35 million extension with the Niners in December. Still, McDonald tantalized with his speed and upside. He had several long TDs (including a 75-yarder against the Panthers in Week 2), and he turned in three finishes as a top-12 TE on the year. He had 50 yards receiving, a TD, or both in six of his 10 full-game appearances on the year, which is pretty damn solid. He’s locked into a long-term deal under the new regime of GM John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan, but the athletic McDonald provides enough upside that we’d guess Shanahan would find some use for him.