BurningQ

BURNING QUESTIONS – AFC


By Bryan Sweet, DFW Senior Writer and Co-Owner, @FantasyFreakDFW

As preseason games get underway and depth charts are finalized, we take a look at each NFL team and take a stab at answering a burning question about that team.  This article focuses on the teams of the NFC and you can find the AFC article here.  Do you have a different answer than the one we came up with?  Let us know in the comments so everyone can benefit!

FFWIMAGE-Cardinals Arizona – How will the RB duties be split among the three RBs?

David Johnson became a fantasy RB1 last season when both Andre Ellington and Chris Johnson went down with injuries, but his stock skyrocketed in weeks 13-17.  David Johnson has a nose for the end zone, scoring 12 TDs on just 182 touches and compiling 1,038 yards on those touches.  Both Chris Johnson and Ellington have proven to be capable runners in the past, but Chris Johnson has lost the speed that made him so dangerous in Tennessee and Ellington can’t seem to stay on the field.  As such, David Johnson should see the bulk of the work and looks primed to finish top five at the RB position.  Chris Johnson and Ellington will spell David Johnson, but look irrelevant for fantasy purposes if David Johnson stays healthy.  As of this writing, Chris Johnson is the primary handcuff for David Johnson.

FFWIMAGE-Falcons Atlanta – Can Devonta Freeman hold off Tevin Coleman and put up RB1 numbers again?

Freeman surprised everyone last year as he finished the season as the #1 RB last season, eclipsing 1,600 combined yards and 14 TDs.  Had Coleman not entered the season injured, he likely would have begun the season as the starter and Freeman would have been an afterthought.  Entering 2016, Freeman has the inside track at the starting gig, but Coleman’s upside is still there.  Coleman struggled in the passing game when given the opportunity last season, failing to convert on nine of his 11 targets last season.  Expect Freeman to get about double the work of Coleman and finish easily as a RB1 with Coleman being a priority handcuff and ending up as a RB4 if Freeman stays healthy.

FFWIMAGE-Panthers Carolina – Can Cam Newton finish the year as the #1 fantasy QB again in 2016?

Newton had a season for the ages in 2015, accounting for 4,473 yards and 45 total TDs, easily finishing as the #1 QB in fantasy.  Heading into this season, Newton is again projected to finish as the #1 QB, based mostly on his ability as a runner and his proclivity to score short-yardage TDs.  The biggest difference from last year to this one is Newton’s ADP.  In 2015, Newton could regularly be had in the fifth or sixth round of drafts; this season he’ll cost you at least a third to acquire his services.  While Newton should finish as the #1 QB, the value isn’t near what it was last season.  Expect Newton to have some regression in the TD department and be closer to the #2 QB than last season.

FFWIMAGE-Bears Chicago – How will the arrival of Kevin White and departure of Matt Forte affect Chicago’s passing game?

Jay Cutler had one of the most efficient seasons of his career last year, tossing an INT just once in every 44 attempts (his career average was one in every 30 attempts) and tossing 21 TDs.  On the negative side, OC Adam Gase now resides in Miami and Forte (44 receptions last season) is now a New York Jet.  However, the Bears expect White to be fully healthy entering this season and should play a big part in Chicago’s passing game.  Despite the subtractions, expect Cutler to have another very good year and be a viable streaming option for those who utilize that strategy.  Cutler slots in as a low-end QB2.  Alshon Jeffery should remain a WR1 and White looks like a WR3.  Jeremy Langford, the RB most likely to replace Forte, looks like a RB3 at best.

FFWIMAGE-Cowboys Dallas – Can Ezekiel Elliott have a season similar to DeMarco Murray in 2014?

Just two seasons ago, DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing with 1,845 yards behind, arguably, the NFL’s best offensive line.  Last season, Darren McFadden topped 1,000 rushing yards for the first time since 2010 behind that same O-Line.  Heading into this season, Elliott seems poised to become the next beneficiary of that luxury and is being touted as the likely Offensive Rookie of the Year.  Elliott looks like a true workhorse RB, but what can be expected of the rookie in 2016?  Assuming Elliott can get some preseason work in and start from week one, he should finish as a RB1 behind that incredible O-Line.  There’s a good chance he finishes top five at the position, but be prepared to utilize an elite pick on Elliott as he’s not lasting past the first round according to ADP.  Those expecting a season remotely close to Murray’s, however, will be disappointed.

FFWIMAGE-Lions Detroit – How will the retirement of Calvin Johnson affect the other pass catchers?

Johnson was a target hog, and rightfully so, for Detroit during his career, averaging 148 targets per season.  Upon his retirement, Detroit quickly signed Marvin Jones and then added Anquan Boldin via free agency.  Matthew Stafford saw a marked improvement last season when Jim Bob Cooter took over as OC, with a 19:2 TD-to-INT ratio and completed more than 70% of his passes.  Heading into 2016, the passing pie will be split amongst four or five primary players.  Leading the way will be Golden Tate (projected low-WR2 or high-WR3), Jones (WR4), Eric Ebron (TE2), Theo Riddick (RB3), and Boldin (WR6).

FFWIMAGE-Packers Green Bay – Can Eddie Lacy regain the form from his first two seasons or is this destined to be a RBBC?

Lacy came out of Alabama and immediately made an impact on the NFL, rushing for 2,317 yards and 20 TDs his first two seasons.  Tack on his additional contributions as a receiver (77-684-4), and Lacy looked like the RB1 he was drafted to be heading into 2015.  Lacy struggled, however, managing just 758 rushing yards and three TDs.  To make matters for fantasy owners, Lacy failed to eclipse 10 rushing yards on three different occasions last season.  The Packers turned to James Starks more and more as the season progressed, and Starks responded with nearly 1,000 yards from scrimmage and five TDs.  As we look ahead to 2016, Lacy looks to be rounding back into his early form and should challenge RB1 level.  Starks is a valuable handcuff, but looks like no more than a RB4 if Lacy stays healthy and performs as expected.

FFWIMAGE-Rams Los Angeles – Will a change of scenery, and starting QB, make more Rams fantasy relevant this season?

As many expected, the Rams left St. Louis to return to Los Angeles prior to the start of the 2016 season, bringing the NFL back to one of the top media markets in the United States.  The Rams come to L.A. with a rookie QB, a stellar second-year RB and plenty of questions.  Jared Goff has been up and down this preseason and is potentially falling behind Case Keenum as the starter.  Todd Gurley is entrenched as the workhorse RB and will be a first-round pick in all but the oddest of leagues this season.  The rest of the roster is filled with average veterans (Kenny Britt, Brian Quick, Lance Kendricks) and rookies with upside (Pharoh Cooper, Mike Thomas, Tyler Higbee) making the Rams a tough team to target for 2016, but worth looking at in dynasty and keeper leagues.

FFWIMAGE-Vikings Minnesota – Is Adrian Peterson a cyborg or will eight seasons of punishment finally catch up with him this year?

Before I get comments and emails about Peterson having been in the NFL for nine seasons, I’m not counting his one-game stint in 2014 in the “eight seasons of punishment” above.  That being said, Peterson has logged 2,621 touches during his career but hasn’t seemed fazed by it so far.  In 2015, Peterson led the NFL in rushes (327) and rushing yards (1,485) and showed no signs of slowing down.  Don’t expect Peterson to carry the ball as many times this season, but he still projects as a solid RB1.  Jerick McKinnon is the primary backup to Peterson and is worth a late-round pick as insurance for the Peterson owner, but likely won’t be worth more than a RB5 otherwise.

FFWIMAGE-Saints New Orleans – Can Coby Fleener take the next step and become a consistent top-flight fantasy option?

Coming out of Stanford, Fleener was expected to immediately become a fantasy mainstay due to his collegiate rapport with Colts QB Andrew Luck.  Fleener’s rookie season was disappointing, but he improved each year, finishing as a TE1 in 2014 with 774 receiving yards and eight TDs.  Fleener took a step back last season, totaling just 491 yards and three TDs.  Now, Fleener gets to catch passes from Drew Brees who has been known to utilize the TE position heavily.  Just last season, Benjamin Watson posted 74-825-6 and he is not as athletically gifted as Fleener.  As such, big things are expected from Fleener, and deservedly so.  It would not be shocking to see Fleener flirt with top three numbers at the TE position this season and is a great alternative to Rob Gronkowski four to five rounds later.

FFWIMAGE-Giants New York Giants – Can Eli Manning challenge for the most pass attempts in 2016?

Last season, with Ben McAdoo as OC, Manning had 618 pass attempts, which was fourth in the NFL and the most of his career to date in a season.  Now that McAdoo has replaced Tom Coughlin as HC, can we expect that number to grow?  McAdoo loves the wide open and aggressive passing game and there’s no reason to think he’ll dial it back when looking at the offense, especially with the group he has at RB.  Additionally, the Giants added Sterling Shepherd in the first round of the NFL Draft, and by all accounts he’s ready to start week one.  Victor Cruz also has seen positive medical reports lately, indicating he may be back for the team’s week one game as well.  However, the Giants should have one of the most improved defenses, meaning protecting leads late and improved field position leading to more rushing attempts.  Therefore, Manning should be near the top in pass attempts again, but not the overall leader.  He still projects as a solid QB1, though.

FFWIMAGE-Eagles Philadelphia – How will the coaching change to Doug Pedersen affect the offensive output?

For the past three seasons, Chip Kelly was the HC of the Philadelphia Eagles and Doug Pederson was the OC of the Kansas City Chiefs.  Kelly guided the Eagles to top 10 finishes in both 2013 and 2014 in total offense, points, rushing offense, rushing TDs, passing offense and passing TDs (2013 only).  However, Kelly’s fast-paced offense was figured out by 2015 and the team dropped out of the top 10 in all those categories.  Pederson seemed to live and die by the running game in Kansas City, finishing in the top 10 in rushing yards all three seasons and the top five in rushing TDs.  On the passing side of things, Pederson was content to pass when needed, being ranked 20th or worse in every passing category all three seasons with the exception of passing TDs in 2013 (15th).  No one will confuse Ryan Mathews with Jamaal Charles, however, so Sam Bradford might not be in as dire a situation as it appears.  Given what we know about the coaching tendencies and the skill set of the offensive players, expect finishes as follows: Sam Bradford, QB3; Mathews, RB2; Darren Sproles, RB4; Jordan Matthews, WR3; Zach Ertz, TE1.

FFWIMAGE-Seahawks Seattle – How will the retirement of Marshawn Lynch affect the offense as a whole?

Lynch brought a punishing running style to the game, and from 2011 through 2014 he toted the rock between 280 and 315 times each season, wearing down defenses in the process.  Moving forward, it appears Seattle will roll with Thomas Rawls as the primary RB, but drafted three RBs in the 2016 NFL Draft.  C.J. Prosise seemed to be the lead candidate to back up Rawls, but Christine Michael has once again flashed why the fantasy community is enamored with his potential this preseason.  Regardless, no RB on the roster brings the physical element Lynch did and that could bring the late-game effectiveness of Seattle’s offense down a tad.  As it sits now, Russell Wilson still grades out as a QB1, Rawls projects as a RB2, Prosise and Michael both as RB6, Doug Baldwin looks like he’ll finish as a WR3 along with Tyler Lockett and Jimmy Graham is probably no better than a TE2.

FFWIMAGE-49ers San Francisco – Can Chip Kelly create fantasy relevance on offense this season?

Kelly took the NFL by storm in 2013 when he took over the Philadelphia Eagles and his fast pace led to startling offensive numbers, making almost every Eagle worthy of fantasy consideration.  Defenses caught up to Kelly’s up-tempo style in 2015, however, and Kelly was shown the door.  Entering 2016, Kelly will be guiding the San Francisco 49ers who have been mostly bereft of fantasy talent for the last five years.  Can Kelly generate fantasy relevance for any of the current 49ers?  Carlos Hyde is the biggest beneficiary as Kelly’s system should give Hyde 30-40 more touches and push him into RB2 territory.  Blaine Gabbert won’t carry you to a fantasy title, but he could challenge for a low-end QB2 finish because of his athletic ability, a plus in Kelly’s offense.  At WR, Torrey Smith and Bruce Ellington project as no better than WR5, but could outperform that based on the volume of plays San Francisco is expected to run.  All in all, fantasy production will be sparse in San Francisco, but there is room for optimism with Chip Kelly’s arrival.

FFWIMAGE-Bucs Tampa Bay – Can Jameis Winston improve on his nice rookie season and step into QB1 territory?

Winston demonstrated why he was the #1 overall pick in 2015, improving as the season progressed and putting up QB2 fantasy stats despite losing playmakers to injury throughout the season.  Winston threw 15 INTs last season, but seven of those were in his first four games.  Winston also had at least one TD in 13 games and accounted for 4,252 total yards.  Tampa Bay will return all of Winston’s targets from 2015, leading to more chemistry and better communication in 2016.  Expect Winston to finish as a mid-QB1, with WR Mike Evans a solid WR2, WR Vincent Jackson a fantasy contributor as a WR4, RB Doug Martin should finish no worse than a RB2 and RB Charles Sims is a quality RB3.

FFWIMAGE-Redskins Washington – Is Kirk Cousins a legitimate fantasy option after a very good 2015?

Draft pundits derided the Redskins when they selected Cousins in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft after using the #2 overall pick on Robert Griffin III.  Now, Cousins is captaining the Redskins and RG3 is in Cleveland and the Redskins look like geniuses for securing a competent backup QB back then.  Cousins had an excellent 2015, completing nearly 70% of his passes and more than 4,100 yards.  Cousins led Washington into the playoffs as winners of the NFC East and had a good showing in the loss to Green Bay.  So, what can be expected of Cousins heading into 2016?  Because Cousins isn’t a threat with his legs, another QB1 finish will be difficult to replicate, but a high-QB2 finish seems obtainable.  The addition of Josh Doctson will help, but DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon will be 30 this season.  The three should finish as a WR6, WR3 and WR5, respectively.  Jordan Reed should provide Cousins with a reliable target at TE and a TE1 for fantasy owners this season as well.