Fantasy 5: Is Cardinals RB David Johnson the next Marshall Faulk?
The Cardinals' second-year RB is drawing some lofty comparisons from teammates. Plus, notes on QB Brock Osweiler and RB Josh Ferguson from Jeff Ratcliffe.
Fantasy 5: Is Cardinals RB David Johnson the next Marshall Faulk?
Every weekday, the Fantasy 5 will take a look at the five most important NFL news stories for fantasy football players, giving you the advice you need to improve your team.
Fireworks, hot-dog eating contests, barbecues and perhaps an adult beverage or two. If there’s a better way to celebrate the independence of the greatest country in the history of humanity, I don’t know it.
The Fourth of July also marks the kickoff to the fantasy football draft season. Don’t forget that you can hone your craft with our fantasy Draft Master tool. Today’s Fantasy 5 will help you as you start prepping for your drafts.
1. Is David Johnson the next Marshall Faulk?
’Tis the season for hyperbole, but this little nugget comes from Arizona defensive back Tyrann Mathieu in the new Amazon.com series All or Nothing. Mathieu compared Johnson to the all-time great, saying “he’s just bigger than him.” It’s a lofty comparison for sure, but Johnson offers a very unique combination of size and speed and has some of the best chops in the league as a receiver out of the backfield.
There’s a lot of debate at the top of this year’s running back rankings, but I currently have Johnson No. 2 behind only Le’Veon Bell. While some may question the presence of Chris Johnson, the veteran back is more of a complement who will help spell the younger Johnson. It’s clear who’s in the driver’s seat in the Cardinals backfield, and Johnson has massive fantasy upside in the explosive Arizona offense.
2. Brock Osweiler has potential to be a solid QB2
Speaking to ESPN’s Tania Ganguli, new Houston quarterback Osweiler sounded a lot like a kid on his first day of school when discussing his offseason education in the Texans offense. Houston signed Osweiler to a $72 million deal this offseason after poor quarterback play derailed a potentially promising season. The Texans then proceeded to load up with talent on the offensive side of the ball, signing running back Lamar Miller and drafting wide receivers Will Fuller and Braxton Miller.
Stuck on the Broncos’ depth chart behind one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time for much of his professional career, Osweiler didn’t get much regular-season action until last season, when he posted 1,967 yards and 10 touchdowns in eight games. Those aren’t jaw-dropping numbers, but it isn’t fair to draw any conclusions from them. Osweiler is still an unproven commodity in both real and fantasy football. Currently the 22nd quarterback in ADP, he’s likely to go undrafted in one-quarterback formats. However, with a talented surrounding cast, Osweiler has the potential to be a solid QB2 option.
3. Know the name: Josh Ferguson
Every year, we see undrafted rookies emerge and become fantasy assets. Last year, it was Thomas Rawls. This year, it could be Ferguson, whom the Colts signed following April’s draft. Colts owner Jim Irsay said Ferguson has “a chance to be special.”
Of course, we hear things like this a lot at this time of year. But Irsay’s comment does carry some weight. Ferguson is a small (5’9, 198), but explosive (4.48 40 time) back who put up 4,093 total yards and 26 combined scores as a runner and receiver in his college career at Illinois. He has home-run-hitting ability, with 322 of his 708 rushing yards last season coming on big plays of 15 yards or more, and ranked seventh among draft-eligible backs in breakaway percentage.
His resume aside, Ferguson deserves the attention of the fantasy community because of the current state of the Colts’ depth chart. The ageless – but really 33-year-old – Frank Gore remains the No. 1. From there, Indy has Robert Turbin, Jordan Todman and Tyler Varga. Yikes.
Ferguson doesn’t profile as a between-the-tackles pounder, but his explosive upside meshes well with what the Colts do on offense. He’s a player to prioritize in dynasty rookie drafts and should be monitored in redraft leagues this year.
4. Maxx Williams is unlikely to break out in 2016
The Ravens currently have more tight ends on their roster than I have old baseball cards in my mom’s attic, and this crowded house means Williams isn’t likely to see a heavy volume of targets this season.
The former second-rounder is coming off a rookie campaign where attrition at the position caused him to lead Ravens’ tight ends in targets with 45. Baltimore signed Ben Watson in the offseason and will be getting Dennis Pitta back to go along with Crockett Gilmore, Nick Boyle and converted wide receiver Darren Waller.
Watson is coming off a big 2015 season where he amassed triple-digit targets and finished tied with Travis Kelce for seventh among tight ends in fantasy scoring. Of course, that was in the extremely tight end-friendly Saints offense, and he’s all but guaranteed to significantly regress. At this point, it looks like the Ravens will have a bit of a tight end by committee situation, which means we’re unlikely to get much fantasy value from this bunch.
5. The fantasy outlook for the San Diego running backs
Last season, Danny Woodhead finished third among running backs in PPR scoring and tied for 11th in standard leagues. That’s impressive productivity from a player who saw just 98 carries. Of course, he also led the position with 96 targets.
With a poor offensive line and lack of a running game, the Chargers were forced to air it out last year, running a pass play on 64.3 percent of their offensive snaps. However, The San Diego Union Tribune anticipates Ken Whisenhunt’s return to have a positive effect on the Chargers’ run game. Whisenhunt was able to revive Ryan Mathews in San Diego, and that bodes positively for Melvin Gordon, who is expected to be fully recovered from offseason microfracture surgery when camp opens at the end of the month.
Gordon was a big disappointment in his rookie season, ranking just 46th in fantasy scoring before landing on injured reserve. However, it’s important to put his performance into context. He ran behind a putrid line that graded out as PFF’s No. 31 run-blocking unit. Gordon also caused the seventh-most missed tackles among running backs on a per-touch basis.
While many will immediately write off Gordon this season, he’s an ideal post-hype sleeper who is currently going as the No. 26 running back off the board in ADP. Gordon’s presence will cap Woodhead’s fantasy value, especially in standard leagues where he’s more of a back-end RB3. That being said, Woodhead remains a strong RB2 option in PPR formats.
Jeff Ratcliffe | Director of Fantasy
Jeff Ratcliffe is the Director of Fantasy at Pro Football Focus. He produces all of our projections and is 2016's second-most-accurate ranker in the fantasy industry. Jeff also is the host of our show on SiriusXM fantasy sports radio and is one of the main hosts of our Fantasy Slant podcast.