Marshawn Lynch, RB, Oakland Raiders
Stores in the Oakland area will need to stock up on Skittles if they haven’t made doing so a priority already. Marshawn Lynch has returned to his hometown and will suit up for the Raiders as his final NFL swansong. Fans are buying up Beast-Mode-themed merchandise, planning their spot on the Super Bowl parade route as they pin their postseason hopes and dreams on the 31-year-old running back. Fantasy drafters are also jumping on board, grabbing Lynch at a preseason ADP of 28.3 as the 13th running back off the board.
However, while the hometown favorite may bring toughness and grit to Oakland’s offense, his impact may not live up to the hype in real life or fantasy football.
Can someone who sat out the entire 2016 season after a mediocre ’15 (just 497 total yards and three touchdowns) return and put up fantasy RB1 numbers? Despite Lynch’s ADP, he is listed as the No. 29 running back in 4for4’s PPR rankings. Sure, Lynch strung together four consecutive seasons in Seattle with 1,400 total yards and more than 12 touchdowns from 2011 to ’14. But he’s now on the wrong side of 30 and nearly two years removed from his last NFL game. Two of the main reasons for the discrepancy in Lynch’s rankings are his potential for injury, and the two running backs behind him on the depth chart.
The running back’s body tends to break down faster than other players, mostly due to the sheer volume of snaps and carries that the average starting running back will take on per game. Lynch has 14 documented injuries dating back to college, ranging from a sprained ankle with no missed time to a sports hernia that sidelined him for nine games. Taking the entire 2016 season off could potentially aid in Lynch remaining healthy this season, but he has a lower back issue that’s been nagging him for his entire NFL career.
In his last season with the Seahawks, Lynch averaged 3.76 yards per carry in the seven games he was on the field. That translates to 9.7 fantasy points per game in standard scoring and 11.5 points per game in PPR formats, which would be good for No. 25 and No. 28 rankings among running backs in standard and PPR leagues, respectively. Lynch is going to have to perform better than that this season to live up to his ADP.
Oakland’s depth at running back could be another factor in Lynch failing to provide a solid return on investment for a third-rounder. With two young, strong running backs breathing down his neck, it may be tough for the 31-year-old to hang onto a true featured role in the Raiders’ backfield. Twenty-four-year-old Deandre Washington ended last season with 5.4 yards per carry and 2.6 yards after contact, showcasing his lead-back potential with a Week 16 performance where he put up a massive 24.7 PPR points against the Colts.
The Raiders also have Jalen Richard, a 23-year-old who has shown flashes of starter-worthy talent. He had four double digit PPR performances last season and finished No. 2 among Oakland running backs with 115.6 PPR points.
Everyone loves a great comeback. For Oakland fans, the return of Lynch as the hometown hero—before the Raiders make Las Vegas their new home, of course—would be the stuff dreams are made of. Due to some blend of nostalgia and hope, drafters are grabbing the former Bills and Seahawks running back in the early third round of fantasy drafts a month out from the 2017 season. They should pump the brakes a bit, however, and take Lynch’s age, health, and depth chart competition into consideration before hitting the draft button too soon.
Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions
Since entering the league just three seasons ago, Eric Ebron’s fantasy numbers have continuously increased, yet his ADP continues to remain stagnant. The Detroit tight end finished both the 2015 and ’16 seasons ranked inside the top 15 in tight end fantasy scoring, with 83.7 standard points (130.7 PPR) in ’15 and 83.2 standard points (144.2 PPR) in ’16. Matthew Stafford has looked for Ebron more frequently each year; Ebron’s targets went from 49 in his rookie season to 70 two seasons ago and 85 last season.
With about a month until the NFL regular season kicks off, Ebron’s ADP is sitting at 134.5, which is usually somewhere in the 12th round depending on the size of your fantasy league. It is a common strategy to wait a while to select a TE unless you’re going to grab one of the top-tier options, the 12th round just seems too low for as productive of a player as Ebron has been. 4for4 has Ebron ranked as the No. 9 fantasy TE in standard leagues and No. 10 fantasy TE in PPR leagues.
The first reason why Ebron could potentially outplay his ADP this season is the absence of Anquan Boldin, who is now with the Bills. In 2016, Boldin was targeted 90 times, with upward of 20 of those targets occurring in the red zone. Red zone efficiency sets quality tight ends apart from the rest of the pack, and Ebron and Stafford have the potential for a solid connection in 2017.
The second reason is that the writing’s on the wall for Ebron to take on a larger role beyond the red zone in the Lions offense this season. Detroit’s addition of tight ends Darren Fells in free agency and Michael Roberts in the fourth round of the draft out of Toledo this offseason will actually benefit Ebron on the field in 2017. Both Fells and Roberts are block-first tight ends, which can keep Ebron fresh by taking him out of the mix on running plays, as well as free him up from pass-blocking responsibilities and allow him to take on a larger role in their receiving game. So far, Ebron has come up short in terms of showcasing his true talent as a receiver, but with the Lions planning for more two-tight-end sets this season, the potential for Ebron to outshine his ADP is a legitimate possibility.
Detroit’s strength of schedule for tight ends could also play a factor in Ebron’s overall success this season. According to 4for4’s fantasy points allowed adjusted for strength of schedule (aFPA), after their first week tilt with Arizona, the Lions face five straight opponents that combine to allow an average of 9.1 aFPA to TEs in standard formats and 13.8 aFPA to TEs in PPR formats.. The Lions’ remaining 10 matchups include only three games against teams ranked higher than 15th against the TE (Chicago twice and Tampa Bay). As icing on the fantasy cake, Detroit’s opponent in Week 16—most likely during your league’s championship week—is Cincinnati, which was the third-poorest team in the NFL at defending tight ends last season; the Bengals allowed an average of 10.5 aFPA to TEs in standard formats and 16.8 aFPA to TEs in PPR formats in 2016.
Tight ends tend to get overlooked when it comes to fantasy draft preparation, but could end up being the difference maker between a mediocre .500 season and a fantasy league championship. If you miss out on a top-tier option like Gronk, Travis Kelce or Jordan Reed, don’t fret—there is plenty of overlooked value left on the board after the third round. Ebron makes a solid choice for your starting fantasy TE in 2017, and you can get him at a very affordable price tag.