NFL training camps are coming up sooner than you think, which means it’s nearly time to start preparing for your fantasy football drafts. SI.com’s fantasy experts Michael Beller and Pat Fitzmaurice discuss some topics below.
Which Arizona receiver, at his expected ADP, is your preferred play?
Note: At publish, ADPs were as follows: Michael Floyd, 54.2; Larry Fitzgerald, 64.4; John Brown, 74.5
Michael Beller: The fact that the three receivers in Arizona are bunched right now makes this an easy call in my estimation. Even if they start to drift apart, as I believe they will when draft season draws nearer, my answer will not change. I’m an unabashed Michael Floyd fan, and I’d be thrilled to have him on all my teams at his ADP. Floyd got off to a slow start last season because of the broken hand he suffered in training camp, but he finished with a bang. Over Arizona’s final 10 games, he had at least 11 points in standard-scoring leagues seven times, averaging 4.4 catches for 74.5 yards and 0.6 touchdowns per game in that span. That translates to 1,192 yards and nine touchdowns, rounding down to the nearest whole number, across a full 16-game season. That’s well within Floyd’s reach, especially in an offense as potent as Arizona’s.
We’ve seen this from Floyd before, when he appeared on the verge of a true breakout after a strong 2013 in which he caught 65 passes for 1,041 yards and five touchdowns. He went on to be one of the biggest disappointments the following season, but I believe this version of Floyd to be a better, more consistent player. Fitzgerald is on the back nine of his career, while Brown, who certainly has his charms, isn’t a complete receiver. I want to invest in Arizona’s offense, and Floyd is one of my favorite ways to do so.
Pat Fitzmaurice: While Beller finds this an easy call, I’m torn. Larry Fitzgerald is Carson Palmer’s favorite security blanket, always open for an easy throw underneath whenever the pass rush starts to close in. Fitz caught 109 passes last year and could hit the century mark again. But I’m slightly troubled by the way his numbers dried up late in the year. The only good game he had from Thanksgiving through the end of the season was his 176-yard playoff performance against the Packers.
I don’t mind Michael Floyd at his fifth-round ADP, but I’d rather have John Brown 20 picks later. After averaging 6.75 yards per target as a rookie, Brown jumped to 9.93 yards per target last year, trailing only Sammy Watkins and Doug Baldwin in that category among WRs with at least 70 targets. That Brown has become such an efficient receiver at such an early stage in his career is a sign of big things to come, I believe. In some ways he reminds me of a young DeSean Jackson, and perhaps Brown can become a more durable version of D-Jax. Again, this is a hard choice for me. I think Fitzgerald still has gas left in the tank, but I’d rather take the ascending player. Floyd’s second-half surge last year makes him enticing, but I’m somewhat bothered by the fact that he’s scored only 19 touchdowns in 63 career regular-season games. Give me Brown at a slightly lower cost.
Which rookie not named Ezekiel Elliott are you most excited to watch in training camp?
MB: I fully anticipate having a good number of Josh Doctson shares this season, so I want to see how the TCU product fits into Washington’s pass-heavy offense. Kirk Cousins opened a lot of eyes last season, and if he can repeat that performance, Washington is going to boast a strong passing game. We know exactly what Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson bring to the table, and the roles they’ll have for Washington. Reed is the best pure pass-catcher on the roster, and could be one of the few tight ends to lead his team in targets. Jackson has made a living out of taking the top off the defense, even when it knows that’s what he’s going to do, and that won’t change. That frees up Doctson to do a little bit of everything on the opposite side of the field.
The 23-year-old spent the last two years catching a total of 144 passes for 2,345 yards and 25 touchdowns for the Horned Frogs. He also gives Cousins something he did not have on the outside last year: size. Jackson is 5' 10", while Pierre Garcon is generously listed at 6-feet. Doctson checks in at a legitimate 6' 3" and proved time and again in college his ability to win jump balls. That could quickly make him Cousins’s favorite target in the red zone. I’m excited to see what Jay Gruden has in store for this intriguing rookie.
PF: Derrick Henry’s combination of size, speed and power is just so intoxicating, but Tennessee is such an awkward landing spot for him, with DeMarco Murray blocking the rookie’s path. If Henry explodes out of the chute in the preseason, the Titans will be forced to reconsider the idea that Murray is their lead runner.
I’d like to think Henry is going to be terrific right from the start—I already have a few shares of him in MFL10 leagues—but who knows? Crimson Tide running backs of recent vintage have a mixed track record. Trent Richardson has been an epic bust. Mark Ingram has become a major contributor but took a long time to get up to speed. Eddie Lacy was terrific as a rookie, not so terrific as a sophomore. T.J. Yeldon was decent as a rookie, but the jury is still out on him. Henry is the most impressive physical specimen of the bunch, however. It will be fascinating to see if he can assert himself early on, to see how he pairs with QB Marcus Mariota, and to see if Henry might contribute in the passing game after rarely being used as a receiver at Alabama.
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Who’s the one player you won’t draft, no matter what?
MB: Try as I might, I just can’t craft a good argument for taking DeMarco Murray at, or even around, his ADP, which is in the middle of round four of a 12-team league. That has him in the same neighborhood as Jordan Reed, Julian Edelman, Jeremy Langford and Andrew Luck. I’m even willing to give Murray a pass for his disastrous, abbreviated tenure with the Eagles. He’s simply a power inside runner, and Chip Kelly’s system requires his running backs to get outside the tackles. It was a terrible pairing of player and scheme, and Murray shouldn’t be faulted for that. It’s still hard for me to get excited about him in 2016.
Even if Marcus Mariota individually and the Titans collectively are better than they were last year, it’s hard to see more than a league-average ceiling for the offense. Even if Murray stays in the first chair all season, rookie Derrick Henry is going to have a significant role in the offense. The coaching staff is already buzzing about his ability as a receiver, and that’s actually something Murray has done well his entire career. Henry can’t help but eat into Murray’s production on the ground. If he does so through the air as well, we could be looking at a true committee in Tennessee.
It’s also worth noting that Murray has never had a standout season without the elite Dallas line clearing holes for him, and that he’ll always have the injury specter hanging over his head. I admit that taking Murray completely off my draft board could burn me, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take given what I see as the extreme likelihood that he does not live up to his draft-day value.
PF: You could put me in a hazmat suit and I still wouldn’t want to go anywhere near Blake Bortles. After throwing for 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns last season to finish fourth in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks, Bortles’ current ADP is QB9, according to FantasyPros.com. But the regression monster is coming.
Bortles’s 2015 fantasy success was volume-driven. He ranked sixth in passing attempts and first in red-zone attempts. The Jacksonville offense, frequently in catch-up mode last season, was pass-happy to the extreme, throwing on 68% of its plays. Bortles is due for a major haircut in pass attempts, and it’s unlikely he’ll be throwing as much in the red zone.
With RB Chris Ivory brought aboard in the off-season, the Jaguars can deploy a nice one-two rushing combo of Ivory and T.J. Yeldon. The Jaguars made a host of defensive upgrades in the offseason, which means they probably won’t be playing from behind as often. And are we sure that Bortles is even an average NFL starter? He threw an NFL-high 18 interceptions last year and took a league-high 51 sacks. His completion percentage of 58.6% ranked 31st among QBs with enough pass attempts to qualify. Yes, Bortles led the league in deep-ball attempts, which partly excuses the poor completion percentage. But even with all those deep throws, Bortles still averaged a very humdrum 7.31 yards per pass attempt. I can think of at least 15 quarterbacks I’d draft ahead of Bortles.
You’ve missed out on Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed and Greg Olsen at tight end. Now what?
MB: In most formats, I’ll be in this position. Gronkowski is a worthy top-12 or -15 pick, and Reed and Olsen are undeniably great, but the position has gotten deeper in recent years, and I have a lot of trouble buying an early tight end, knowing that I’m then going to have to chase at receiver and running back. My two favorite tight end targets this season are a pair of guys who happened to find themselves the perfect new teams this off-season. The first of those is Coby Fleener, who I think provides the best draft-day value at the position. Remember what Drew Brees made out of Ben Watson last season? Fleener is far more athletic than Watson was a season ago, and likely more naturally gifted as well. He and Dwayne Allen always stood in each other’s way in Indianapolis, but now that Fleener is largely by himself (I’m not worried about Josh Hill), he’s set to shine in what is always one of the most bankable passing games in the league.
If I miss out on Fleener, I’m happy to fall back on Ladarius Green. The 26-year-old had to leave San Diego to emerge from Antonio Gates’s shadow, but there’s plenty of reason to believe his oft-discussed breakout is finally coming in his first season with the Steelers. You don’t need me to tell you how explosive this offense can be with Ben Roethlisberger under center and the league’s best receiver-back duo in Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Green fits in beautifully, giving Roethlisberger the sort of vertical weapon at tight end that he has never had in his career. I’ll purposely miss out on the big three at the position if I can land one of Fleener or Green with a much later pick.
PF: I’m going to be a slave to value at TE. Honestly, I could see myself starting any of about 15 different tight ends in Week 1. In a draft last month, I waited quite a while to address the TE position and wound up with a combo of Eric Ebron and Jason Witten. Hopefully Ebron is ready to break out in a Detroit offense that has plenty of targets to go around in the post-Megatron era, but if not, Witten is a pretty high-floor fallback option. But the tight end I’ll probably own the most shares of in 2016 is Antonio Gates. I’ve been guilty of writing him off prematurely for a couple of years now, and I’m sick of trying unsuccessfully to predict his demise. Gates should still be a big part of a good San Diego passing game, particularly around the goal line. If this is the year his body finally breaks down, so be it. But he’s one of my favorite TE targets this year at his modest ADP.
What league feature can you not live without?
MB: Let me first say this. Full PPR scoring is terrible and should never be used. That’s another topic for another day, but I had to say it here. All my favorite leagues use the superflex, and I can’t recommend it enough. Superflex leagues are basically two-quarterback leagues, but instead of having two QB slots, one of your flex spots is QB-eligible. That way, if for some reason you can’t start two quarterbacks in a given week—be it because of injuries, byes, or another reason—you’re not forced to take a zero at the position.
These days, every fantasy league should be using two quarterbacks. The NFL has changed a lot over the last 10 years, most notably with respect to the passing game. Players like Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston, Matthew Stafford and Ryan Tannehill should matter in fantasy leagues, given the way the game is played today, but would be on the waiver wire in plenty of one-quarterback leagues. Superflex also forces fantasy owners to break out of the prescribed draft-day norms by requiring a total rethinking of quarterback value. For my money, it’s the only way to play fantasy football in 2016.
PF: I agree with Beller on PPR. It might have made sense 15 or 20 years ago, when running backs dominated fantasy football, but the NFL has become much more of a passing league in recent years. Unfortunately, this has become a minority opinion. It seems as if most people are content with a scoring system that makes a zero-yard catch as valuable as a 10-yard run. (Sigh) But I’d like to reverse-engineer this question, if I may, and bring up a feature that I can live without: kickers. There’s very little skill involved in drafting kickers or deciding which one to start in a given week, and every intelligent player waits until the last round or two of the draft to take a kicker. So why bother with them at all? Get rid of the kicker position and add an extra flex spot instead. Purge kickers forever!