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Fantasy Football: An Early Look at 2016’s Polarizing Players

by Adam Strangis
Jan 5, 2016

Kirk Cousins

Was Kirk Cousins’ 2015 for real or a fluke?

Every year in fantasy football, there are huge surprises and disappointments and these players are very difficult to rank heading into the following year. Here are 10 players that could spark debate as we get closer to 2016.


Kirk Cousins – Washington Redskins
Since the Week 8 bye, Cousins has a 20/3 TD/INT ratio while adding three rushing touchdowns. Cousins did not play a full game in Week 17, but he still tacked on three more TD passes. 23 total touchdowns in eight full games and a partial ninth would equate to 40+ touchdowns over a full season. 

Cousins has been fantasy elite for half a season. Yet, would anyone feel comfortable drafting him as a starting QB? 

He may not even be in Washington next season, as he is an unrestricted free agent going into 2016. Owners will have to decide if Cousins is the real deal or played the best eight games of his career at the perfect time.

Matthew Stafford – Detroit Lions
Stafford was playing so poorly the first few games that there were rumors he could be traded during the offseason. While the whispers remain (and the Lions are going through front office changes), Stafford has been playing “lights out” under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. Since their bye week, Stafford is completing 68 percent of his passes, while only throwing 2 INTs to 19 TDs.

That is money in fantasy or real life football. It’s hard to see Stafford being moved, and he could easily be a top-eight QB next season.

Marcus Mariota – Tennessee Titans
Mariota had a typical up-and-down rookie season in 2015. The bad was he missed four full games with separate MCL injuries. But the good was he completed 62.2 percent of his passes and gained 3,060 total yards with 21 total TDs.

This was without the Titans having any reliable weapons to complement Mariota outside of TE Delanie Walker. The real wild card for Mariota is his old head coach Chip Kelly is available. If Kelly reunites with Mariota, he could turn into a high-end QB.

Running Back

DeMarco Murray – Philadelphia Eagles
Murray is one man who is not sad to see Chip Kelly be let go. He went from being one of the best running backs in football to being a complete afterthought this season in Philly. Murray reportedly went to Eagles’ ownership to complain about his role in the offense and paid for it. 

He was demoted to fourth string after that point. No matter who the new Philadelphia head coach is in 2016, Murray should return to at least RB2 value.

Doug Martin – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Martin was a contender for a rushing title in 2015 after suffering from a myriad of injuries the previous two years. The talent is unquestionable when he is healthy, but there is a good chance Martin will be running for a new team next season. 

Depending on where Martin is next year, he could be a top-five option. The question becomes if you could trust him to have back-to-back productive years.

Jeremy Langford – Chicago Bears
Langford got his chance when Matt Forte got hurt this season and made the most of it. Reports are Chicago expects Forte to leave via free agency, leaving Langford as the feature back. Langford has also shown he can be a receiving threat out of the backfield. 

The drawback for Langford is he had so little time in the lead role that some owners may not have faith that Langford could be an RB1. He will most likely be popular as a low-end first-round pick by the time the 2016 draft rolls around.

David Johnson – Arizona Cardinals
David Johnson’s been electric all season long, and coach Bruce Arians had to give him a full workload due to injuries. Johnson showed power, speed and explosiveness in the lead role. Due to the offense, Johnson is in, one could argue that he could be a top-five pick in 2016. 

The argument against Johnson is he could also turn into the next Jeremy Hill. He and his teammates laid an egg in the last game versus Seattle, but Arizona had little to play for. His track record is so small that it would be a touch scary sinking a first-round pick into David Johnson.

Wide Receiver

Doug Baldwin – Seattle Seahawks
Coming into the 2015 season, Baldwin had 15 TDs in four full seasons. Starting with the Week 12 game versus the Steelers, Baldwin proceeded to score 11 touchdowns in FIVE weeks! One thing all analysts will agree on is that his touchdown rate is totally unsustainable.

The debate is going to come from how to value Baldwin next year. Is he a top-15 WR? Top 25? Could he revert back to his usual value of total dart throw? This could be the most heated debate of the offseason.

Calvin Johnson – Detroit Lions
After reading the stats that QB Matthew Stafford has put up since Jim Bob Cooter took over, one would think that also meant good things for Calvin Johnson. However, Johnson has exactly two games this year with 100+ yards. That is simply not what anyone thought they would get when they drafted Johnson this year. 

There have been reports that the Lions will ask Johnson to restructure his contract to stay with the team. For the first time in years, there is a valid debate if Calvin Johnson is even a low-end WR1.

Tight End

Gary Barnidge – Cleveland Browns
On the basis of what he’s done this season, Barnidge would be a sure-fire TE1 going into next year. The catch here is he is a 30-year-old player who had a combined 44 receptions over six seasons with three touchdowns. This type of explosion at his age is rarely seen in the NFL.

It is even harder to sustain it over the course of multiple years. Barnidge may also have the disadvantage of playing with a new quarterback. 

He most likely will be a top-five option since tight end is so thin. Owners would be wise to approach with caution.

One of the biggest challenges of being an owner is deciding who to trust for your lineup and who you can’t. It’s almost always best to have some sort of mix between players that are consistent week in and week out and always trying to find the next big thing. The best thing as an owner is to decide on your personal process and stick with it all year long.

Adam Strangis is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Adam, check out his archive.

Correspondent, Featured, NFL