32 Fantasy Questions: Eastern Divisions
What is the key fantasy football question for each NFL team? Pat Thorman examines the AFC and NFC East.
32 Fantasy Questions: Eastern Divisions
While plenty of time remains before training camps open, the draft is in the rear-view mirror and basic roster structure is formed. Before things really start to pick up, let’s take a spin around the league, and ask one pertinent fantasy question for each team. For fun, I will add my best guesses, which, in most cases will be safe to ignore in about a month. Without further ado, let’s look East.
Buffalo Bills – How often will Buffalo wing it around?
Rex Ryan wants to take the air out of the ball, while grounding-and-pounding his way to building a bully. As cliché as that sounds, it means Buffalo’s pass catchers are up a creek. Sammy Watkins, Percy Harvin, and Charles Clay will try to get blood from a stone, thrown by a yet-to-be-determined scatter-armed quarterback. Ryan’s and Greg Roman’s offenses in New York and San Francisco ranked higher than 25th in pass attempts just once since 2010, and the Bills defense is good enough to win with a similar ratio.
Best Guess: Not enough. And considering Roman’s offense had Frank Gore facing base or heavier defenses on 83 percent of snaps (fourth-most), and LeSean McCoy averaged 3.2 yards per carry (YPC) against base (eighth-worst) while taking handoffs in PFF’s top run-blocking offense, you might want to avoid this mess.
Dallas Cowboys – Will the pass/run ratio regress upward?
They passed on 49.9 percent of snaps in 2014, the league’s 30th-highest rate. Over the previous five years, a Jason Garrett or Scott Linehan offense never had a pass-to-run ratio in the bottom half of the NFL. Their average ranking was 6.9 in 10 total seasons, with four finishes in the top three. That alone does not mean they’ll return to their pass-happy ways, but the lack of a feature back should nudge them toward it. Even a small increase in volume would boost their uber-efficient passing game.
Best Guess: Yes, it will. As improved as Joseph Randle looked last year, it was a small sample. In four career games with double-digit carries, he averaged 2.6 yards per attempt versus 7.5 in all others. I’ll buy that Jerry is happy with Randle as their lead back when we actually see it.
Miami Dolphins – Did the Jay Ajayi pick really sink Lamar Miller’s fantasy value?
Ajayi fell to the fifth round, so Miami didn’t exactly invest heavily in Miller’s replacement. Miller is only 24 years old and is their best option in 2015, although speculation abounds over whether the Dolphins know it or not. Miller averaged a league-best 5.8 YPC against base defenses, and Miami’s revamped passing game and tendency to deploy three wideouts mean they’ll face plenty of light fronts. A healthy and reinforced offensive line will help PFF’s seventh-ranked rushing offense (4.7 YPC; second-best).
Best Guess: Miller graded as PFF’s fifth-best runner (+11.0), and ranked second of all 100-carry runners in yards before contact per attempt (2.8). If the Ajayi buzz has spooked your league mates and Miller’s ADP keeps sliding, take advantage. It remains probable that he receives the lion’s share of the workload.
New England Patriots – Is LeGarrette Blount worth drafting at his seventh-round cost?
Blount not only received PFF’s highest rushing grade on a per-snap basis of any back with at least 100 snaps (0.039), he ranked fourth in 2013 (0.025). His 0.59 PPR points per opportunity placed third among rushers with at least 50 carries. New England added two mauling guards to an offensive line whose run blocking took a step back for the second season in a row. That said, Blount will always be a matchup play as a Patriot, and currently, the rest of their depth chart is as clear as mud.
Best Guess: Yes, but the AFC Championship (30 carries, 148 yards) and the Super Bowl (14 carries, 40 yards) illustrate how the Patriots won’t bang their heads against a wall. Trying to think along with Bill Belichick is fun, but ultimately fruitless — which is why Blount is best suited for “best ball.”
New York Giants – Is Shane Vereen viable while stuck in the Giants’ backfield quagmire?
Choosing between Rashad Jennings and Vereen is tough. Both cost mid-to-late seventh round MFL10 picks, as back-end RB3s. All three Giants running backs, Andre Williams included, pass blocked well in 2014. While Vereen received $5 million guaranteed, the immortal Dwayne Harris got even more — so that’s no help. Yet Vereen excels in the hurry-up, which New York deployed on the second-highest percentage of plays in 2014. He averaged 53 snaps in games that the Patriots ran at least 10 percent no-huddle versus 31 in slower-paced contests.
Best Guess: Depending on if you enjoyed whiffing on those “Vereen Game” calls, it’s a chance worth taking — at least in “best ball” leagues. Vereen averaged 17.2 PPR points during New England’s five double-digit no-huddle percentage games, which was good for the No. 6 running back in those weeks.
New York Jets – Will Chan Gailey propel the Jets passing game to fantasy relevance?
New York will throw more often than we’re used to, mostly because it would be tough to pass any less. They ranked fifth in run percentage (48.2) and 27th in pass attempts last season. Gailey’s recent offenses (three in Buffalo, and one in Kansas City) have pass percentages that fluctuated from seventh-highest (2008, 2011) to fifth-lowest (2012). With a roster set up to rely on the defense, the question is not if the passing volume will rise, but how much can we realistically expect?
Best Guess: Yes, but cool your Jets. Geno Smith won’t endure a job competition, but nobody should be shocked if Ryan Fitzpatrick also starts. Adding Devin Smith to Eric Decker, Brandon Marshall, and Jace Amaro makes for sexy receiving name value, but it also further muddies the target distribution waters.
Philadelphia Eagles – Should we be worried about a Jordan Matthews role change?
Last year, Matthews’ slot percentage topped the NFL (92.4). He was targeted on 21 percent of his slot routes versus 10.8 percent when split out wide (37 routes). Although a small sample, his Yards Per Route Run mark from the slot was significantly higher (1.87 versus 1.11), as he enjoyed a size and athletic advantage over middle-field defenders. Nelson Agholor’s presence will push Matthews outside more often, and although that will lead to bigger plays, the transition could be bumpy.
Best Guess: Until we know where Matthews will line up, he’ll remain a mystery. Right or wrong, pre-draft concern over his ability to win on the perimeter existed, and the Eagles tend to spread targets around. Agholor’s presence makes Matthews’ early-fourth round MFL10 ADP riskier than it was in May.
Washington Redskins – Matt Jones is coming? Matt Jones is coming!
Alfred Morris’ contract year, a third round investment in Jones, and standard springtime coach-speak has Fantasyland buzzing about a potential changing of the guard. This is when we hear teams talking-up draft picks and projecting rosy year-one outlooks. The problem is Jones isn’t very good. His CFF grades were all below average for rushing, receiving, and blocking (albeit slightly negative). His pass blocking efficiency ranked 58th out of 59 running backs, which doesn’t seem optimal for someone projected to Roy Helu’s old role.
Best Guess: What was the question? Whatever it was, the answer is to take advantage of Morris’ ADP now that it’s sliding into the fourth round of MFL10s. Last year’s PPR No. 17 running back will benefit from offseason offensive line upgrades, not the least of which is coach Bill Callahan.
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy and was named 2013 Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman