Every Friday until the end of fantasy draft season, SI.com fantasy football experts Michael Beller and Pat Fitzmaurice will bat around a number of questions in a quest to help you assemble the best fantasy team possible.
What are your impressions of the Dorial Green-Beckham trade, and which other players benefit most?
Fitz: It’s pretty damning that the Titans grew so weary of the DGB experience after little more than a year that they were willing to trade him for a lightly regarded backup offensive lineman. I plead guilty to having been entranced by Green-Beckham’s rare combination of size and speed, but I’m not putting any more of my chips into the pot. I’d rather wager on Rishard Matthews, the Titans receiver who stands to benefit most from having DGB out of the way. I liked R-Matt as a late-round sleeper even before this deal was made; now I’ll consider taking him a few rounds earlier.
As for Tennessee’s other receivers, Kendall Wright’s flatlining fantasy value gets a needed jolt, Tajae Sharpe now has a better chance of compiling useful numbers as a rookie, and oldster Andre Johnson might become waiver-worthy at some point. Green-Beckham’s arrival in Philadelphia probably won’t change Jordan Matthews’s role, but it doesn’t bode well for 2015 first-round draft pick Nelson Agholor, who has reportedly had a lousy training camp. I’d like to think there’s still hope for Agholor, who dealt with injuries and a gauntlet of matchups against top cornerbacks last year, and I’d rather take a flier on him than on DGB.
Beller: Well, it isn’t DGB. I suppose you could say his stock rises a bit going to a team that actually wants him, but when a team that isn’t exactly loaded at receiver like the Titans gives up on you before your second year in the league, you clearly have some issues to address. I don’t see Green-Beckham’s presence in Philadelphia changing the calculus for any of the team’s receivers, other than maybe Nelson Agholor, who was already no more than a late-round flier in deep leagues.
All the interesting developments are with the team DGB left behind. The Titans boast a few intriguing late-round receivers, and all of them picked up value when the team sent Green-Beckham packing. My favorite of these is Rishard Matthews, who caught 43 passes for 662 yards and four touchdowns in 11 games with the Dolphins last season. Matthews was already comfortably ahead of DGB on the depth chart, but this removes the possibility of the wildly talented yet mercurial receiver figuring things out and forcing his way into the starting lineup. It also leaves Matthews as the obvious deep threat for Marcus Mariota. He’s someone you must have on your radar on draft day.
The trade is also great news for rookie Tajae Sharpe, who’s now listed as a starter alongside Matthews on the depth chart. The fifth-round pick out of Massachusetts totaled 2,600 receiving yards in his final two years in college and immediately opened eyes with the Titans. He has been one of the early stars of training camp and, at 6' 2", is now the tallest receiver on the depth chart. Sharpe is an interesting player to watch over the next few weeks. His ceiling might be “depth receiver fantasy owners start during the bye-week portion of the season,” but there’s value in that class of player, especially considering Sharpe won’t cost you much more than a 14th- or 15th-round pick.
Kendall Wright and Delanie Walker, meanwhile, will likely get a handful more targets, but DGB didn’t really have much bearing on either of them.
Dak Prescott, Bishop Sankey and Alex Erickson were among the top performers of the preseason’s first week. Aside from these August All-Star candidates, what caught your eye in the first round of exhibition games?
Fitz: Hello, Derrick Henry. The rookie from Alabama displayed his Heisman Trophy-winning form in the Titans’ exhibition opener, rushing 10 times for 74 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers. Even though DeMarco Murray also looked terrific in that game, carrying six times for 93 yards, including a 71-yard TD, I want no part of Murray at anything close to his fourth-round ADP. Henry is going to be a burr in the britches of Murray owners all season long. It’s also worth noting that Ravens RBs Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon both looked good in Baltimore’s win over the Panthers, and Buck Allen added a TD reception. I’ve been fading Justin Forsett in all of my drafts, and you should, too: In what’s looking like a multipronged backfield, Forsett isn’t going to get enough touches to be an every-week fantasy starter.
Beller: Yes, Henry looked great, and in my opinion, he is the only back in Tennessee worth owning at his ADP. I’m going to stay in the backfield and in the AFC South, turning my attention to the Jaguars.
We got our first look at how Jacksonville will split the backfield duties between Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon. Ivory had six carries for 26 yards and a touchdown, while Yeldon rushed four times for 26 yards. Yeldon was the starter and got the first two carries, picking up 13 yards. The two combined for five carries between the 20s, and Yeldon had four of them. Ivory’s only carry in the middle of the field was after consecutive runs by Yeldon to start the game.
When the Jaguars got into the red zone, however, it turned into the Ivory show. Before the first team packed it in for the night, Ivory had all of the team’s five carries inside the 20. With the Jaguars facing a goal-to-go situation from the one-yard line on their second possession, offensive coordinator Greg Olson called Ivory’s number on two straight plays, and he punched it into the end zone on his second try.
Nothing is set in stone after one preseason game and 10 combined carries, but the Jaguars likely gave us a window into their backfield plans. It looks like Ivory and Yeldon could truly split carries down the middle, with Yeldon handling most of the work between the 20s and on third down, and Ivory hogging the more valuable red-zone and goal-line work. Both will be valuable if that’s the case, mirroring what we’ve seen from the pairing of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard in Cincinnati the last two seasons. Yeldon’s depressed ADP makes him a better relative value, in my opinion, but there’s nothing wrong with chasing either of them on draft day.
There are currently five RBs with second-round ADPs, according to Fantasy Football Calculator: Jamaal Charles, Devonta Freeman, Eddie Lacy, LeSean McCoy and Doug Martin. Let’s add Mark Ingram, since he just misses the second-round ADP cut. Which of these guys do you like most, and which makes you the most nervous?
Fitz: Charles is my RB6, and I’m completely comfortable with his second-round ADP. Some fantasy owners are skittish about him after last season’s right ACL tear and the way Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West filled in capably in his absence. Charles has made a successful comeback from a torn ACL before, rushing for a career-high 1,509 yards in 2012 after ripping up his left knee in ’11. Yes, he’ll turn 30 in December and might not have quite the same elasticity that he had a few years ago.
But then again, he might. Charles has a career average of 5.5 yards per carry, the highest mark among active running backs with at least 750 career attempts, and he has scored 62 TDs in 100 regular-season games. He’s a perfect fit for Andy Reid’s offense and is so efficient with his touches that he doesn’t need to be used as a workhorse in order to return value. By all means, the Chiefs should mix in Ware and West.
As for the other RBs with second-round grades, I’d feel better about all of them in the third round. None of them exactly give me the cold sweats, but I’m slightly nervous about Freeman because his rushing numbers down the stretch last season were mediocre and because I happen to think that his backup, Tevin Coleman, is a pretty talented cat.
Beller: I’m not at all concerned about Lacy, McCoy or Martin, and my slight injury-related reservations on Ingram are easily counterbalanced by his upside and per-game production. The one who gives me the most confidence, however, is Lacy. He was a top-six running back his first two years in the league before his surprising bust campaign last season. So long as Jordy Nelson is running at full speed, the Packers’ offense should be the juggernaut it was in Lacy’s first two seasons, and that will help him back into the RB1 class. Additionally, Lacy slimmed down this off-season. I have no problem drafting him to be a top-10 back this year.
I love Charles, but any running back with two ACL tears in his past can’t be the player in which you’re most confident in the second round. I’m not exactly shying away from him, though, for the reasons Fitz points out. I cannot say the same for Freeman. We’ve gone over this before, but Freeman largely had the backfield to himself for all of last season. That won’t be the case this year with Coleman healthy. As great as Freeman was at the start of last season, he still finished the year with just 4.02 yards per carry. He failed to top 88 rushing yards from the first week of November through the end of the season and ran for 3.31 yards per carry in his final eight games. I’m supposed to believe in him when McCoy, Martin and Ingram, as well as Mike Evans and Alshon Jeffery, are still on the board in a typical draft? No thanks.
Let’s play a little over/under with the Seahawks. Thomas Rawls: over or under 1,000 rushing yards? Tyler Lockett: over or under 900 receiving yards? Jimmy Graham: over or under 40 receptions?
Fitz: I like Rawls enough to rank him as my RB14, but I’ll nevertheless take the under on 1,000 rushing yards. Only seven running backs topped the 1,000-yard mark last season, and though I think there will be more 1,000-yard runners this year, I worry that Christine Michael, Alex Collins and C.J. Prosise will siphon off enough carries to keep Rawls from hitting that number. Close call on Lockett, but give me the over. His talent is undeniable; it’s just a question of whether he’ll get the requisite targets in an offense that’s destined to have a lot of run-friendly game scripts.
As for Graham, the under is the sensible percentage play because so few players have ever been able to make successful comebacks from torn patellar tendons. I’m betting the under, but I’m intrigued by the possibility that Graham is such a remarkable physical specimen that he’ll be able to beat the odds. The 18th century British nobleman Baron Rothschild said the time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets. Graham’s TE10, mid-round ADP isn’t quite bloody enough to interest me, but if he slides beyond that point, I might just be a buyer.
Beller: I’ll take the under on Rawls, and over on both Lockett and Graham.
I’ve made my feelings on Rawls clear all summer. I know he was great last year, but I’m not buying into a player totally lacking an NFL starting pedigree based on six good games, who just happens to be coming off a broken ankle. Oh, and he’s not a receiving threat either, but that’s neither here nor there for this question. Pete Carroll is already talking about a backfield split between Rawls and Christine Michael. I know that the fantasy community has spilled plenty of ink, and even more tears, on Michael, but the fact that Carroll is so vocal about his potential role in the offense is not a good thing for Rawls. Don’t forget, too, that the Seahawks have every incentive to take it easy on Rawls early in the season. Even if he proves me wrong and he’s every bit as good this year as he was in his six feature games last year, chances are he’s capped at about 15 carries per game for the first month of the season. That will help keep him south of 1,000 yards.
The Seahawks truly became Russell Wilson’s team last season, and I think we only see his thumb push down even harder on the scale this year. Doug Baldwin is Wilson’s No. 1 target without question, but Lockett figures to have a larger role in the passing game this season. He played just 61% of the team’s snaps last year and hovered around a snap rate of 54% for the first eight weeks of the season. If he can match last year’s efficiency and pair that with his expected uptick in targets, he should surpass 900 yards.
As for Graham, he had a terrible debut season with the Seahawks, missed five games due to injury, and still had 48 catches. I don’t think he’s going to barrel his way back to the rock-solid TE1 class, but I’d bet on him going over 60 receptions before I’d bet on under 40, even with the devastating injury from last year.
Sammie Coates, Phillip Dorsett, Devin Funchess—which of these second-year receivers has the best chance to break out?
Fitz: Funchess has been superb in training camp by all accounts, and it’s not inconceivable that he could outproduce Kelvin Benjamin this season. Still, Coates is probably the best breakout candidate of the three. The Steelers need a field stretcher to replace the suspended Martavis Bryant, and Coates is a big-time vertical threat. He has good size (6' 1", 212), 4.4 speed and a big-play record from his three seasons at Auburn, where he averaged 21.4 yards per catch. Coates played only 8% of the Steelers’ offensive snaps last year and fumbled twice in the preseason opener, but regardless, I’m excited about his potential to blossom in Pittsburgh’s verdant offensive environment.
Beller: All three of them have a strong enough chance to break out that I’d like to have at least one on all of my rosters. For my money, Coates is in the best situation, as Fitz stresses, but Funchess is the most talented. While the former has the best chance at producing a fantasy-relevant season because of the strength and personality (verdant—great word, Fitz) of the Pittsburgh offense, the latter is the only true breakout candidate in the bunch.
Funchess had a decent rookie year, catching 31 passes for 473 yards and five touchdowns, though it’s worth noting he played fewer than 50% of the team’s snaps. That won’t be the case this season, even with Kelvin Benjamin and Ted Ginn listed as the starters. At 6' 4" and 225 pounds, Funchess is a big-bodied receiver who can be a real weapon in the red zone. He started his career at Michigan as a tight end before the Wolverines converted him to receiver to better take advantage of his athleticism, and he’s simply too good to be limited to the same 64 targets he had last year.
Funchess scored a touchdown in Carolina’s opening preseason game. The only camera angle available of the touchdown is frustratingly bad, but anyone who has watched more than a little football can see enough of the catch to know what Funchess did on this play.
Funchess displayed the body control and hands of a legitimate real-life No. 1 receiver on the score. He’s not yet close to that realm from a fantasy perspective, but he has the tools to break into the top 30 or 40 at the position.