Fantasy Football Intelligence: The “C” Teams
Do you know what you get when you have a barrel of sewage and you add a teaspoon of wine?
Do you know what you get when you have a barrel of wine and you add a teaspoon of sewage?
Not all of the teams discussed today are barrels of sewage, but each has at least one fatal flaw that will leave them in the bottom third of the league. A couple may get to 7-8 wins, but it would be a major upset to see any of these teams in the playoffs. As a result, factors like game flow and lack of red zone opportunities may diminish the fantasy consistency and overall performance of the players on these teams.
The “C” Teams (2018 records in parentheses)
Arizona Cardinals (3-13) – #1 overall pick QB Kyler Murray is getting rave reviews early in camp. New HC Kliff Kingsbury runs an exciting offense and has a lot of buzz around him, but push comes to shove, does not have a winning record. If Murray is anything like the hype, the Cardinals will win more than three games, but it is most likely to be five or six wins, nothing more. Last year the team finished last in rushing, passing and scoring so mediocrity would be a massive improvement. By all means, draft Murray as a backup if your roster size allows. He will be running and throwing for as long as he can stay on his feet. He could easily amass 500 yards and six TDs on the ground, if he can avoid injury. Arizona’s below average o-line coupled with Murray’s height will make the passing results less reliable and will make Murray owners wince. Kingsbury’s offense spreads a lot of receivers so Murray won’t get extra protection most of the time and teams will be taking aim at him. The first Cardinal to get drafted will be RB David Johnson. Johnson was a top 3 back in 2017 before injury and is now more like RB11 give or take depending on PPR. Despite the Cardinals poor play last year, Johnson still rolled up 1,386 yards and 10 TDs. This new offense should open up at least as much opportunity for him. Here’s the worry: Last year the Cardinals lost seven games by 14+ points and Johnson only exceeded 100 total yards in one of them. He had only three TDs in those games and seven in the other nine games. The game flow could be different in the new offense, but RBs generally suffer when their teams get smoked and the Cardinals probably have a half dozen whippings on the schedule. Still, Johnson is a back end RB1, elite RB2 if you can get him there. No other Arizona back is worth taking and any handcuff would not be nearly as good. The Air Raid offense should generate more passing yards than last year, but there is no clear #1 receiving option. If I had to draft a WR today it would be Christian Kirk. He was 43/590/3 as a rookie last year and is versatile, lining up in the slot and outside. Other options would be Larry Fitzgerald whose best case is probably 1,000 yards and 6-8 TDs but is more likely to be 20% below that level. His PPR prospects are slightly better, but in general, at the point you would take Fitz you are probably better off investing in upside. If someone wants the name brand, let them have him. 2nd Round pick WR Andy Isabella is diminutive but fast. They also have a 6th round pick named KeeSean Johnson who has started well along with 6’5” receiver Hakeem Butler. I’ll have a better draft opinion later in training camp, but unless you have a deep league, steer clear and be ready to pounce on the waiver wire when we have a better idea of how this offense looks. None of the Cardinals TEs are worthwhile for fantasy, nor is the defense.
Buffalo Bills (6-10) – The Bills won four of their last seven and HC Sean McDermott does a decent job. They could exceed last year’s six wins but not by much. The Bills benefit from two games with rebuilding Miami, and one each with NYG and WAS so they will have some good weeks, but there is not enough consistency or upside in their game to get too excited about their prospects in real life or fantasy. QB Josh Allen had 631 rushing yards and 8 TDs in 12 games (11 starts). He accounted for 2+ scores in only 5/11 starts, but four of his last six. He is still coming along as a passer (2,074 yards and only 10 TDs in 11 starts) which means you are counting on that rushing production to continue. As with other emerging young QBs, he’s a worthwhile backup. Slot him behind Garoppolo, Darnold, Murray and Trubisky. If the Bills have a productive RB he will be a bargain, but we have no clue yet how their backfield will run. LeSean McCoy is 31 and slowing down. Even if he is productive, he is likely to lose goal line work to Frank Gore. Draft choice Devin Singletary is having a good camp and getting first team reps. T.J. Yeldon is a receiving back. Between Allen stealing rushing chances and the crowded backfield, avoid Buffalo until there is more role clarity. The Bills have some serviceable receivers. Free agent John Brown has the most experience and has looked good so far. He is primarily a deep threat and has an injury history. Zay Jones was the top receiver overall and had 6 TDs in his last eight games. He’s not a burner though and with Allen not yet a prolific passer, you don’t want to start him regularly. Robert Foster had a good finish too and has more speed than Jones but does not yet have a body of work. Finally, Cole Beasley was signed as a slot receiver and they are paying him well so expect to see him on the field. None of the receivers look like week to week starters in fantasy. The Bills signed Tyler Kroft to play TE and he has some ability. The Bills also had a history of using the TE when they had Charles Clay. Kroft is already hurt though, and you can find better options elsewhere. Bills defense may be worth a spot start as a streamer but should not be drafted.
Cincinnati Bengals (6-10) – The Bengals’ prospects get worse by the day. First they lost their 1st round tackle for the season. Now A.J. Green is having surgery and we are not sure when he is going to play. New HC Zac Taylor joins from the Rams, but he is young and unproven. He was a QB coach, not even the OC. The defense is below average and the offense will probably score less than last year. They feel like a 4-5 win team and this will most effect their primary fantasy prospect RB Joe Mixon. On the bright side, Mixon can catch as well as run and he will be on the field a lot. The downside is, like Johnson in AZ, there will be some beatdowns in store for the Bengals. In four 14+ point losses last year, Mixon had 100+ yards once and did not score. He gets a lot of volume and that will get him drafted among the top 10 RBs. Last year he had 1,400+ yards and 9 TDs. He should be in that neighborhood again. Ordinarily, WR A.J. Green would be the next Bengal to be drafted, but his status is up in the air. This is a good place to offer some wisdom: There will always be injuries over the course of the season. All things held equal, don’t draft someone who is already hurt. Yes, if you have a large roster and a good player slips well past where he should be drafted, you should pick him. Or if a player is on suspension for a finite amount of time and you know you can work around his absence and then have a better player drafted at a discount, do it. But this should be the exception and not the rule. Green in particular is slowing down. He missed seven games last year with a toe injury and now has a different ailment. He was productive last year when he played, with nearly 700 yards and 6 TDs in half a season. He will be drafted, and if people wait long enough he could be a bargain. I would draft him as a back half WR3 or backup if he lasts that long, but a case can be made that WR Tyler Boyd has passed him as Andy Dalton’s top WR. Boyd had over 1,000 yards and 7 TDs in 14 games. (I reserve the right to move Green up if we get better news during camp.) The Bengals gave Boyd a lot of money and are counting on him with or without Green. Speedy John Ross will probably be the 3rd WR, but will only be drafted in the deepest leagues. Andy Dalton threw for 2+ scores in 7/11 starts. He will go undrafted in all likelihood. TE Tyler Eifert is productive when he plays but is rarely healthy. He will get red zone looks but can’t be counted on as more than a backup. He’s missed 52 of his last 80 games but if you find him on waivers and active when you need a bye week sub, you could do worse. Cincinnati’s defense should not be drafted.
Denver Broncos (6-10) – They have the talent to be .500 and might get there. New coach Vic Fangio did wonders with the Chicago defense and he has some players to work with in Denver. Despite 2x each with LAC and KC, their schedule is tough but not brutal. They visit GB and Indy and they play some tough defenses on the road (Min, Hou), but if the offense improves over last year they are good for 6-8 wins. The offense should improve with QB Joe Flacco replacing Case Keenum. Flacco got off to a decent start in Baltimore last year before his injury paved the way for Lamar Jackson to take his job. Flacco had 2+ scores in just 4/9 starts (12 TDs overall). RB Philip Lindsay put up 1,200+ yards and 10 TDs in 15 games as an undrafted rookie before getting hurt. He should be 100% by the time the season starts, but it looks like he will once again have to beat back the challenge of the bigger, more pedigreed Royce Freeman. The field got even more muddled when the Broncos signed Theo Riddick, a very capable receiving back for obvious passing downs. Lindsay will probably assert himself as the best of the group, but with Freeman possibly owning short yardage and Riddick catching passes it does not feel like last year’s 10 TDs will occur again. Lindsay looks like a back-end RB2 at best with particular exposure if you are relying on catches or heavy TD totals. The Broncos pass offense will be below average and will not likely produce any fantasy starters. Emmanuel Sanders was playing well last year before his Achilles tear, but he is now 32 and has probably lost a step from the injury. There are two young receivers, Cortland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton. Sutton is more explosive and Hamilton is a slot receiver. Neither is particularly enticing, but Hamilton may have some PPR value. The Broncos spent a 1st round pick on TE Noah Fant and Flacco has a history of using TEs, but rookies don’t often excel at TE and the Broncos have other TEs on the roster who could also produce. Fant is a back-end backup at this point. Denver’s defense is viable. They are draftable and at least seven of their games will be against below average offenses. They can be part of a good platoon or draft them and stream a replacement for the six LAC, KC, GB and Indy games.
Detroit Lions (6-10) – The Lions are in transition. Prior to hiring HC Matt Patricia last year, the Lions had a robust passing game that produced fantasy results but did not return W’s on the field. They have pivoted away from that system toward a more balanced offense and Patricia, former DC of the Patriots, is working to build a better defense capable of winning games. The results are uneven so far and the jury is still out on Patricia, whose highlight last year was a 26-10 week 3 victory over New England. Former Seahawks OC Bevell takes over the offense. You may remember from the tragi-comedy, “So You Decided to Call a Pass on 2nd and Goal in the Last Minute of Super Bowl XLIX.” Maybe Patricia owed him one. The Lions are in a tough division; they went 0-4 vs. Chicago and Minnesota last year and while they went 2-0 vs. Green Bay, that may not happen again. 5-7 wins feels like the range. QB Matt Stafford is not the same player who threw for 40 TDs eight years ago. His age, health and the offense around him supports nothing more than middle of the road performance. Rather than draft him as a backup, I would rather take one of the young QBs with upside. If they are all gone, you can draft Stafford if his schedule meshes well with your starter. The one Lion who will exceed his draft position is RB Kerryon Johnson. As a rookie last year he was growing into the #1 role before losing the last six games of the year to a knee injury. He runs with speed and power (5.4 YPC) and averaged 95 yards from scrimmage and 4 TDs in his last eight games. The Lions signed C.J. Anderson who will spell Johnson and may steal some goal line work but they cut Theo Riddick which will keep Johnson on the field for more passing plays. I like Johnson as a RB2 with upside because the Lions will try very hard not to abandon the run. Stafford has a strong arm and the Lions have some players at WR. Kenny Golladay is an emerging talent. He won’t see enough volume to be a PPR stud, but he averaged over 15 yards per catch and went over 1,000 yards in 15 games. He only scored 5 TDs, but he is big and he will do better as his route running improves. I’m comfortable with him as a WR3. Marvin Jones is also a deep threat (14.5 yards per catch), but he lost the last seven games to injury. He still scored 5x in only nine games, but Golladay has more upside whereas Jones seems unlikely to exceed 900 yards and 7 TDs in this offense. Former Patriot Danny Amendola is the slot receiver but will probably not be drafted. The Lions used a 1st round pick on TE T.J. Hockenson but also signed former Steeler TE Jesse James who may steal some of his receptions (don’t bother with the hyperlink unless you are over 50). Draft Hockenson as a backup if your roster is big enough. The Lions defense won’t be drafted, but you might be able to stream them in certain weeks.
Miami Dolphins (7-9) – The Dolphins are rebuilding. They hired former Patriots LB Coach/Defensive Play Caller Brian Flores as HC and New England’s former WR Coach Chad O’Shea as OC. The Fins traded a 2nd round pick for last year’s 10th pick overall Josh Rosen to be the QB of the future and maybe present. Flores was with the Patriots for a long time and he did a masterful job with the defense, particularly in the Super Bowl. O’Shea understands one of the league’s most complex offenses and worked in it for 10 years. The problem with the Belichick tree is that you don’t know where Belichick ends and these guys begin. Other than Bill O’Brien (Hou) and former Patriots player Mike Vrabel (Ten) who might be able to coach, Belichick’s system has not yet traveled well. Miami has personnel problems. They are a 4-5 win team and Rosen may be in the unhappy position again of getting displaced by a top draft pick next spring when the Dolphins pick near the top. Don’t spend too much fantasy energy here. The QBs are undraftable. The offensive line is among the worst, so the running game won’t be good. RB Kenyan Drake had some good games the last couple years and averaged 4.5/YPC last year. The Dolphins were pass heavy in the red zone so he had only three rushing TDs last year, all outside 10 yards. He also had three receiving TDs and was the recipient of the lateral in the “Miracle in Miami” win over New England. “But O’Shea will probably be more balanced in the red zone” you might say. Perhaps so, but due to his size, Drake is splitting carries with Kalen Ballage, ensuring that neither will have enough production to be useful. If one or the other gets hurt, the last man standing may produce some useful games, but it is a crapshoot at best. With Rosen and/or Ryan Fitzpatrick operating behind a weak line, the receivers don’t offer much help either. Kenny Stills is probably the only marginally draftable one, and he is worth about 700-800 yards and 6-7 TDs. DeVante Parker was a highly regarded 1st rounder in college, but has not been able to stay on the field and has been disappointing when he has played. Journeyman Albert Wilson was productive in three of six games before losing the last 10 to a hip injury. No thanks. TE Mike Gesicki might be a backup or fill in, but he is unlikely to be drafted. The defense lost some key pieces and will be on the field too much. Even if Flores can eventually improve the unit, it won’t be in time to help this year.
New York Giants (5-11) – They are in the middle of a rebuild, but I question the foundation that GM Dave Gettleman is building on. Rather than address a woeful defense, they reached for a QB of the future at pick #6. They went defense with their other two first round picks but the unit still has a lot of holes. The Giants are heading for another 4-5 win season and rather than drafting the QB they should have addressed O-line or defense at #6 and worried about QB in 2020 when they will again be at the top of the draft. I don’t know if it is lack of self-awareness, delusion, incompetence or mad genius that led them to pick Jones, but if Daniel Jones does not turn out to be a franchise quarterback, Gettleman’s tenure should be short. The Giants have a couple of fantasy-worthy players including a candidate for #1 overall, RB Saquon Barkley. As a rookie he accounted for 2,000+ yards and 15 TDs. If you play PPR, you got 91 catches to boot. (Note: the catches are not likely to recur – the Giants passed much less and handed off more in the second half of the season which worked better for Barkley, so figure on 60 catches). The Giants offense, such as it is, runs through Barkley and will do so as long as he is healthy. The Giants o-line is improved over last year with Kevin Zeitler coming in a trade with Cleveland. If they play as expected, they will be middle of the pack. Draft Barkley confidently if he is on the board when you pick. Wayne Gallman is probably the handcuff, but if Barkley goes down, Gallman would be lucky to have half the production. QB Eli Manning is nothing better than a fill-in at this point, you wouldn’t want to keep him on a roster. The Giants will not be a great passing team. The production will be spread primarily among WRs Sterling Shepard, WR Golden Tate and TE Evan Engram. Engram is TE 4-6, a solid starter but clearly below the top 3. He is a bit brittle though, missing five games last year and getting nicked up a bit. Shepard is the #1 receiver, but like Tate does his best work in the slot. It remains to be seen how the two are used. Adding insult to injury, Shepard is injured in camp and not yet a shoo-in for week one while Tate has received a four game PED suspension so he may miss the first month, pending his appeal. Former first round pick Corey Coleman is already gone for the year with a torn ACL, leaving Bronco retreads Cody Latimer and Bennie Fowler. The Giants defense will struggle most of the year and cannot be counted on in fantasy.
Oakland Raiders (4-12) – They will be entertaining, that’s why they are on Hard Knocks. HC Jon Gruden is a TV star but it remains to be seen if he can be a 21st century NFL coach. Last year the Raiders lost nine games by 14 or more points and the team had a lot of noise around it. So much for “any given Sunday” parity. Gruden purged his best players, flipping LB Khalil Mack and WR Amari Cooper for three 1st round picks. He made a big move in this off-season adding Antonio Brown from the Steelers. Pittsburgh got a 3rd and 5th – not a huge haul, but Pittsburgh is smart to send AB somewhere he is unlikely to haunt them. The Raiders also added Tyrell Williams from the Chargers so QB Derek Carr has some new weapons along with RB Josh Jacobs, selected with one of the 1st round picks. The Raiders have a tough schedule; they could be a lot better and still only win five games. The defense is porous, so some of the offensive players could put up numbers when the Raiders are trying to keep up. QB Derek Carr slipped since looking like a star in 2016. He has more to work with than last year, but is a back-end backup/fill-in until further notice. Josh Jacobs is the RB to draft, but he didn’t catch a lot of passes at Alabama and game flow will limit his upside. Still, he should get enough action to be RB20-24 depending on PPR. WR Antonio Brown will get picked early, likely WR 7-9. Beware that he is suffering from frostbite on both feet and can’t yet cut as I write this. If he continues to have “cold feet” as camp progresses, he will get downgraded a few spots. Regardless, he’s not off to a great start in Oakland. Tyrell Williams has some skills but won’t see enough targets to be a fantasy starter. Jared Cook moved to the Saints in the offseason and no current Raider TE should be on a fantasy roster. The defense is bottom five and faces one of the toughest schedules in the league, stay away.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11) – New HC Bruce Arians has a reputation for a high powered passing offense, but he is past his prime and may not be as effective a leader as he has been in the past. The Buccaneers culture as well as their QB will represent a challenge for him and it is not clear if he is up to it. If he is, there is some offensive talent to work with here and they can score some points. The defense remains suspect so the team is likely to remain in the 4-6 win range, but they will be in shootouts. The Bucs best fantasy player is WR Mike Evans. Evans is a big target, he gets downfield and he scores. He had nine total TDs in 2018, eight receptions. He only had 5 scores in 2017, but his floor in 2019 should be 1,500 yards and 8 TDs. He is a top 10 fantasy receiver. TB’s slot receiver Adam Humphries left for Tennessee in free agency and deep threat DeSean Jackson went back to Philly. This opens up a great opportunity for Chris Godwin. Last year Godwin finished with 842 yards and 7 TDs but had a lot of quiet games. I expect him to have a greater target share this year and perform as a WR3 with WR2 upside. He may provide more value in the mid-late rounds than Evans will early. The Bucs had two viable TEs last year, Cameron Brate (289 yards/6 TD) and O.J. Howard (565 yards, 5 TD). Historically, Arians’ offense does not rely on TEs for receiving though and the presence of both diminishes their individual upsides. If pressed, draft Howard as a backup in case he emerges as the third option in the offense. QB Jameis Winston is in a make or break year. He is wildly inconsistent and throws too many picks, but his contract is expiring and his future is at stake. He has thrown for a lot of yards (280/game average the last two years) but he takes too many sacks, throws too many picks and is not efficient in the red zone. He could be a top 10 QB or a bottom 10 QB. Split the difference and rank him ~ QB20. Don’t bother with the defense, they were bad last year and may have gotten worse.
Washington Redskins (7-9) – This team has a lot of holes and after five years at the helm, there is not much evidence that HC Jay Gruden is any good. In fact, I expect that at least two coaches will get more wins this season than the Gruden brothers combined. They have a first round QB (Dwayne Haskins) that needs grooming and the other options are journeyman Case Keenum or career backup Colt McCoy. The best player on the O-line (if not the whole team) has vowed never to come back (Trent Williams) and even if they trade him, the return will likely be picks that won’t help this year. Last year the Skins were middle of the pack defensively, but the offensive disaster will likely make them worse this year. They feel like a four win team. On the fantasy front, the QBs are undraftable. There may be some value at RB where either Derrius Guice or Adrian Peterson will lead them in rushing. Guice is coming off knee surgery and if healthy will get a chance to be the main rusher. Peterson will be retired before the Redskins are relevant again, so he won’t be the first option unless Guice falters. That said, Peterson could undermine Guice’s value with short yardage work. Chris Thompson is a 3rd down back who has some PPR upside, but that is about it. If Guice shines at camp, he could be drafted as a RB3, if not maybe Peterson can, but neither will wildly outperform their draft position. In addition to the uncertainty around who will throw the ball, there is also no clarity around who will catch it. The options are Terry McLaurin (not to be confused with McLovin), Trey Quinn and the disappointing Josh Doctson, but other than Quinn who might be a marginal PPR play, none are fantasy worthy. TE Jordan Reed is probably the Skins most talented receiver but he never stays healthy. He’s a low end backup or fill-in. The defense will not be drafted.
That completes the team overviews. You now have a download on each team’s real life and fantasy outlook in about 15,000 words total. The next steps are strategy, assimilating information and building the draft board.
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