Every off-season in the NFL, we see a surfeit amount of movement among players with fantasy relevance. Often times, one focuses on players who are changing teams, garnering a new opportunity. Take for instance, Andre Johnson, who left the inept passing attack in Houston, to join the dexterous passing offense of the Indianapolis Colts. Looking at the proverbial ‘new shiny toy,’ or in Johnson’s case, a refurbished one, the excitement of new opportunity gleans heavy expectations to produce value on draft day. Sometimes in the distraction of hysteria cultivated by these moving players, we forget the holes that have opened up in the roster they have departed from. The frenzy of the Luck to Johnson hook-up seemingly gains more interest than what Johnson is leaving behind. Yet, fantasy players must be cognizant of the new opportunity opening up in Houston for WR to step up, like Deandre Hopkins for example. We will be taking a look at some rosters who will be gaining addition by subtraction in 2015. Losing some of your big-time players can sometimes be detrimental to the overall team’s success, but it may help inflate some fantasy numbers from players who are still on that roster.
New Orleans Saints
In a retrospective view, lets look back at the Saints’ offense of 2014. As a team, they averaged 411.4 yards per game, which was good for first in the league. Out of those yards, 297.8 of them were passing, which was the third highest in the league, per usual for the Saints’ offense and Drew Brees. In an off-season that saw the Saints’ trade away their top two receiving options in Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills, some may ask what is left?
What’s left? With the loss of Graham and Stills, this leaves 148 receptions, 209 targets, 1,820 yards, and 13 touchdowns for other New Orleans players to make up. That is a wealth of production for some Saints’ players to become gems on draft day.
First off, second year WR Brandin Cooks looks to expand on his rookie year production, before it ended short due to injury. The stat line Cooks finished with last year for his 10 games was 53 (70 targets)/550 (10.4 YPC)/3. Cooks led all WR last year in catching 80 percent of his targets. Granted, he only played 10 games in 2014, connecting on a percentage that high shows the chemistry him and Drew formulated during his rookie campaign. Although those numbers may be harder to duplicate with the uptick in targets this year, catching the ball closer to the line of scrimmage keeps that catch-rate a plausible number. On a per catch basis last year, Cooks averaged 2.14 points per target in PPR scoring, which was good for ninth out of the qualifying 82 WR with 50 or more targets. In a standard league, he scored 1.33 points per target, which ranked 18th for those who qualified.
Cooks has an ADP of 16 among WR on fantasypros.com, and 39th overall. Drafting him this high is a calculated risk if he can not increase the touchdown numbers from last year. At 5-foot-10 he is not the prototypical red-zone target, so hopefully using his explosiveness and shiftiness can help him cross the goal-line more in 2015. Since Brees joined the Saints in 2006, at least one player every year has caught 8 touchdowns. Will one of those receivers be Brandin Cooks this year? It may very well be, but one WR that has been on the roster for quite some time, may have a resurgence to WR1 territory and offer greater value come draft day.
Second in targets to Graham in 2014, was former seventh-round pick Marques Colston. Graham led the team with 124 targets, while Colston was second on the team with 99 targets. Throughout his years with New Orleans, Colston has mustered 115 targets on average per year with a high of 144 in 2007. In only two years since being drafted in 2006, has he not been targeted more than 100 times. Last year, needing one more target to eclipse that number, and in 2007 when he only played 11 games. Seeming to be Drew’s security blanket before the years of Graham’s existence, and quietly undermining Graham with sneaky production can help lead us to believe the targets will be there, if not increase.
One could envision a scenario in which Colston ends the season with a stat line of 70/1,110/8. This would put Colston on the border of WR1 territory in the fantasy realm. Current drafts are seeing Colston go around the ninth round, about the 50th WR taken. If he can put up anything similar to the aforementioned stat line, he could become an absolute steal come draft day.
Everybody seems to be intrigued by Cooks and his immense upside he presents in his second year. Nevertheless, if the touchdown numbers stay low he may be a flat tire on your way to a fantasy championship. The consistency we have seen from Colston in the past, intertwined with where you can grab him in your drafts, may present you with more upside than taking the flashy Cooks.
Mallett, Savage, Hoyer? There are still questions as to who will be throwing the Houston wide-outs the football. John McClain, a well respected beat writer for the Texans, has stated that Hoyer most likely will start the season as the Texans’ QB. He said he “looks smooth, smart, and accurate,” and talking about coach O’Brien’s system and Hoyer, “looks like he’s been in the system for years.” If it is indeed Hoyer at the helm, he should be serviceable just, as Ryan Fitzpatrick was last year.
Houston was 17th in yards per game at 344.6. Unfortunately for WR, they were only throwing the ball for 209.5 yards per game, good for 24th in the league. A big part of this was due to the success of Arian Foster and their run game. Houston was 5th in the league with 135.1 yards per game. Hopefully we can see an uptick in their passing yards this year, but sticking to their successful running game will bode well in opening up the field for the WR.
Some production has now opened up with the loss of Andre Johnson to the Colts. Although Johnson has digressed the past few years, he was still a focal point in the Texans’ offense. Johnson finished the 2014 season with the stat line of 85 (147 targets)/ 936 (11.0 YPC)/3. The targets, 20 more than any other Houston WR, will need to be redistributed throughout the WR now on the Houston roster.
Lets take a look at some of the Houston players we should be looking at to pick up some of Johnson’s left behind production. First off, Deandre Hopkins had a breakout season in 2014, possibly already superseding himself as the Texan’s number one pass catcher before Johnson’s departure. Hopkins ended up with 20 less targets than Johnson in 2014, but still finished with a better stat line of 76 (127 targets)/1,210 (15.9 YPC)/6. Taking a look at his production from his first two seasons according to Numberfire.com net expected points metric (NEP) which quantifies a player’s production compared to league expectation level, in his rookie season, Hopkins recorded a reception NEP of 58.05 and ranked 48th among wideouts with 50 or more targets on a per-target basis with 0.64. In 2014, his reception NEP rose to 96.06, and he finished 26th among qualifying receivers with a reception NEP per target of 0.76. Furthermore, some upward trending numbers, he accounted for 26.5% of the team’s targets, a significant jump from his 14.7% as a rookie.
The loss of Johnson leaves a gigantic void in the offense. He led the team with 147 targets, which was 30.5% of the Texans’ total. Former Jaguar Cecil Shorts III, journeyman Nate Washington, and rookie Jaelen Strong have been added in his place, though none of these men offer the stable production that Johnson brought to the table year in and year out. Because of this, Hopkins’ role should expand in Johnson’s absence, and it would not be astonishing to see his target share approach the 30% mark in 2015.
Hopkins currently has an ADP of 15th among WR, and 37th overall. Hopkins has the opportunity to take another humongous leap in 2015, and most definitely can end up being a WR1 come the end of the season. The quarterback play in Houston will really determine whether or not taking Hopkins this high in drafts is justified. You can also look to take a flier on Jaelen Strong late in drafts. At 6-foot-2, 217 pounds, he can be a red-zone beast, and really impressed people with his above average combine numbers. It remains to be seen who will step-up and be the Texan’s number two WR.
Let us start with the most important aspect of this offense, the terrific Tim Tebow. He was a fantastic analyst for the SEC network, but he is an even better quarterback. All joking aside, Chip did happen to bring in a new quarterback, Sam Bradford, to run the show in Philly.
Looking at the Eagles’ aerial attack from 2014, they logged 272.2 passing yards per game, which was good for 6th in the league. Their top WR from last year, Jeremy Maclin, has reunited with Andy Reid in Kansas City. There should not be anything to worry about, from a production stand point, for them to pick up where they had left off. If we remember back to when Desean Jackson left Philly, there were some worries on who would become that top dog, and we saw Maclin fill those shoes. Maclin stepped up in 2014 and finished with a stat-line of 85 (143 targets)/ 1,318 (15.5 YPC)/10.
Last year, we saw the rookie WR Jordan Matthews step right in and become the number two threat alongside Maclin. Matthews had a solid year, as many rookie WR had last year, and finished with 67 (105 targets)/ 872 (13.0 YPC)/8. There are rumblings from Eagles’ camp that Matthews will now step outside and assume the role of Maclin. Nelson Agholor, rookie wideout from USC, would probably then assume the role of Matthews in 2014, and work out of the slot. Agholor is a really polished WR, playing three years at USC. He is very versatile, as he has played both inside and outside in his time in Silicon Valley. Also, in his last year, he saw a coaching change to Steve Sarkisian, who runs an up-tempo offense similar to Kelly’s. He is expected to beat out veteran Riley Cooper, and Josh Huff for the second spot alongside Matthews in two WR sets. When the team goes to a three WR package, Agholor most likely will move to the slot, where Matthews found a lot of success last year.
In PPR leagues, Matthews is being taken about 43rd overall, and 19th at WR, according to fantasypros.com. Agholor, on the other hand, is being taken 100 overall, and 38th at WR. We can expect tight end Zach Ertz to see a boost in his production from last year, as he really came on at the tail end of the season. Nevertheless, this should not scare you off from taking either of the Philly WR in your drafts. The same scenario could unfold where we see two of their weapons have extremely productive seasons, and gauged on where they are being drafted, there is value to be had.
Chicago Bears- Look for Alshon Jeffery to become a beast without Brandon Marshall in the fold. Also, rookie Kevin White, another big target for Cutler, has a chance to continue the trend of successful rookie WR campaigns.
Minnesota Vikings- It is not saying a whole lot that Greg Jennings is leaving the offense. Although, with Peterson coming back and Mike Wallace joining the team, this looks to be a better offense on paper. Teddy Bridgewater showed he was serviceable as an NFL quarterback, and we will see if he can make some of the WR fantasy relevant. Wallace’s inconsistencies need to be tightened up for him to hold value in season-long leagues, he may be a better DFS player with his boom-or-bust type production. One player that could have surprising value this year would be Charles Johnson. Norv Turner says “he is far and away our best receiver” about Charles Johnson. He appeared in 11 games last year for the Vikings, but the 6 games he started he tallied up 31/475/2. With Wallace to help take pressure of Johnson, he could end up being a sneaky WR two at the end of the season.
Baltimore Ravens- Torrey Smith left the team, opening the door for rookie Breshed Perriman under the wing of veteran Steve Smith. Smith had a terrific start to the 2014 season, and then had an abysmal finish. Perriman will take over the role of Torrey as Flacco’s deep threat. Time will tell if he can become more than that, and he is an interesting pick come draft day.
All the aforementioned players are ones to ponder come draft day. The players I will try to garner most exposure to in order relative to expected value by the end of the season are Colston, Agholor, Hopkins, Cooks, and Matthews. Although, all of the WR discussed should be considered upon where they fall in drafts. Stay tuned for upcoming articles ranking all the WR overall. Gear up, the season is upon us.
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Major League Fantasy Sports Show: Join Ej Garr and Corey D Roberts on Sunday June 28th from 7-9pm EST for this week’s episode of Major League Fantasy Sports Radio sponsored by the Sports Palooza Radio Network. Call in to ask questions at 646-915-8596. This week’s topics will be the A.L. Central, N.L. West, and everything fantasy related within.
Our guests this week include Kyle Amore, Lou Landers, and Hernan Batista. Kyle is a writer with MLFS in which he focuses on the N.L. East, N.L. Central, and the MLB Draft. Catch his articles every Tuesday morning. Lou Landers is the host of Major League Fantasy Football Weekly which is our live YouTube show which runs every Saturday from 2-3:30pm EST. Hernan Batista is an excellent owner in (Team name “Powerslave) MLFB2, and a long time veteran of fantasy baseball. Come join us for a lively debate.
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Major League Fantasy Football Weekly Show: Join Lou Landers and Ron McCleese on Saturday June 27th from 2-3:30pm EST for this week’s episode Major League Fantasy Football Weekly. We will be discussing key free agents/traded players that will have a profound impact in the 2015 fantasy football season.
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