Fantasy 5: Marshall, Decker on the rise after Fitzpatrick’s return

Draft positions for the two Jets WRs sagged when it looked like Geno Smith would be the QB. Jeff Ratcliffe expects a reversal now.

| 3 months ago
(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Fantasy 5: Marshall, Decker on the rise after Fitzpatrick’s return

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.

Training camp is officially underway, and you definitely want to check out all of our articles from the PFF training camp tour. The crew was in Indy yesterday to check out the Colts.

We don’t have any Colts news in today’s Fantasy 5, but there are a few big stories that came out in the last 24 hours that have the potential to impact the fantasy landscape.

1. Expect Marshall’s and Decker’s ADPs to rise following the Ryan Fitzpatrick signing.

After a long offseason of back-and-forth negotiations, the Jets finally came to an agreement with Fitzpatrick, signing the veteran signal caller to a one-year $12 million contract. Fantasy owners and Jets fans can breathe somewhat easier now that the team won’t enter 2016 with Geno Smith under center.

Fitzpatrick is coming off a career year from a statistical standpoint, posting 3,905 yards and 31 touchdowns through the air and finishing as fantasy’s No. 11 quarterback. However, the stats only tell part of the story for Fitzpatrick. He actually struggled at times, completing just 59.6 percent of his passes, and he was one of just two full-time starters to average less than 7.0 yards per attempt. However, to his credit, Fitzpatrick took the fewest sacks per pressured dropback, with just 19 sacks on 214 pressured dropbacks.

While Fitzpatrick is by no means an elite starter, he’s a capable player who knows how to run Chan Gailey’s offense. This signing will likely mean an ADP uptick for Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Marshall is currently 14th among wide receivers, and that number will likely creep up to the top 10. Decker has been a steal at 30th among receivers. He’ll almost certainly be a top-25 pick when drafts are in full swing at the end of next month. Fitzpatrick certainly has the chance of repeating as a back-end QB1, but he’s better viewed as a mid-range QB2.

[It’s probably time to recalibrate draft values for the Jets’ top two receivers . Take a spin with PFF’s new Draft Master tool to figure out where they should go, plus get recommendations on the players you should target in every round of your draft.]

2. Le’Veon Bell is unlikely to win his suspension appeal.

News of Bell’s suspension completely shook up fantasy rankings across the industry. Bell remained confident that he’d win his appeal, but that’s sounding increasingly unlikely as NBC’s ProFootballTalk reported that “there’s a strong sense that Bell won’t be escaping the suspension.” Per the report, Bell alleges that his missed test was the result of changing phones and not receiving notification of the test.

With Bell’s chance of winning not sounding good, he remains a back-end RB1. Since news of the suspension broke last Friday, Bell’s ADP has dropped to the early second round. He isn’t quite a value at that point, but his ADP is likely to continue to fall off. Ideally, Bell will settle out in the third round, where he’s likely to provide a solid return on investment.

The equal and opposite reaction to this suspension is DeAngelo Williams being locked in as an RB1 for the first four weeks of the season. When the news broke, I predicted Williams would go in the sixth round and that’s exactly where he sits in current ADP. That number likely won’t rise much further, but even at the tail end of the sixth round it’s going to be tough to gain any equity with Williams. He’s going to provide great fantasy numbers over the first month of the season, but he’ll likely go back to a reserve role when Bell returns. It’s just too tough to justify only getting four weeks of production out of the 28th running back off the board.

3. Ryan Mathews nicked up. Wendell Smallwood trending up.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Ryan Mathews is injured. In other news, water is wet. The Eagles placed Mathews on the active/NFI list for an ankle injury the veteran running back sustained last week. Mathews won’t be on the field for the first full-team practice this afternoon. He can’t practice until his name is removed from the list, but he’s reportedly walking without a limp.

This is the rub with Mathews over the last two seasons, as he’s missed 13 games over that span. At the same time, he’s been very productive when he’s actually on the field. Last season, he averaged 5.1 yards per carry and runs of 15-plus yards accounted for 37.5 percent of his rushing yards. Mathews also ranked fourth among running backs in fantasy points per opportunity.

But the old saying is “you can’t make the club in the tub.” That’s not to say that Mathews’ roster spot is in jeopardy at all. He’s a lock to make the team. However, any time he misses is more opportunity for rookie Wendell Smallwood to show the Eagles coaches what he has to offer. Smallwood has 4.4 speed and has already impressed in camp as a receiver out of the backfield. With Mathews’ propensity to get banged up, Smallwood is a very intriguing late-round handcuff.

4. Breakout candidate: Bruce Ellington

While much of the fantasy chatter about the 49ers receivers this offseason has focused on Torrey Smith, we shouldn’t overlook Ellington. He’s a former fourth-rounder out of South Carolina who is on the small side (5’9, 197), but has impressive speed, running a 4.45 at the 2014 NFL combine. More importantly he’s the favorite to play the slot in Chip Kelly’s offense, and is a player who Kelly has been talking up since February.

Kelly runs a lot of three-wide sets and tends to use the slot receiver to create mismatches against the opposing defense. In Philadelphia last season, Jordan Matthews ran 92.7 percent of his routes out of the slot and was by far the most heavily-targeted receiver. Matthews saw 120 targets, which was 77 more than second-place Nelson Agholor.

Of course, Smith is the favorite to lead the 49ers in targets this season, but Ellington is a sneaky bet for a breakout. He very well could end up second on the team in targets, and has the potential to surface on the PPR radar this season.

5. There’s no fantasy value in Hakeem Nicks.

It’s the time of year when NFL veterans come out of the woodwork and get signed. Case in point: the Saints signed WR Hakeem Nicks Wednesday. There was a time not too long ago that Nicks looked to be on the verge of entering the elite fantasy wide receiver conversation. He topped 1,000 yards in 2010 and 2011, finishing as a top-12 fantasy option in both seasons. But then something changed. Nicks floundered over the next two seasons despite seeing triple-digit targets both years, and then had a failed stop in Indy followed by a six-game, seven-catch stint last season back with the Giants.

It’s an odd journey for sure, and even stranger to be talking about a 28-year-old receiver being completely out of gas. Nicks is at an age where he should be reaching his peak, but his recent play has looked like he’s closer to the end of the line. He’ll be in the mix for the 53-man roster, but is a huge longshot for fantasy relevance should he make the team.

| Director of Fantasy

Jeff Ratcliffe is the Director of Fantasy at Pro Football Focus. He produces all of our projections and is one of the most accurate rankers 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.

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