As preparations are underway for the 2016 NFL season, fantasy football prognosticators are blogging, tweeting, posting and podcasting their favorite candidates for MVP of the 2016 fantasy football season. All aboard the hype train! After being burnt by DeMarco Murray, Davante Adams, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Ameer Abdullah, et al. in 2015, fantasy owners are anxiously searching for the next breakout candidate/draft day steal. Unfortunately, with camps just getting underway, last season’s stats and hype are the only indicators of how a player may perform in 2016. After a few preseason games, we may have a better picture of how some of the bigger names will be utilized and what type of production to expect.
Several names have been swirling in fantasy football circles as potential studs in 2016. The more obvious players with first round average draft positions such as Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott and David Johnson have been discussed numerous times in various formats. Accordingly, this article will focus on five players with average draft positions in the second through fourth rounds that are receiving plenty of preseason hype and whether you should buy or sell.
Lamar Miller – BUY
During his four seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Lamar Miller amassed 2,930 yards and 19 touchdowns on 638 rushing attempts and 117 receptions for 887 yards and three touchdowns. In 2015, Miller’s best statistical year (194 ATT for 872 YDS and 8 TDS and 47 REC. for 397 YDS and 2 TDS), he finished the season 6th amongst running backs in fantasy with 184.9 points in standard scoring leagues. While the numbers throughout his career are respectable, Miller was given an average of 15 touches per game, which is the primary reason he departed for greener pastures. A move to the Houston Texans could mean a heavier workload, which is something that was on Miller’s wish list while playing for Miami
In Bill O’Brien’s first two years in Houston, the Texans ran the ball 551 and 472 times, which was good for first and fifth in the NFL in 2014 and 2015, respectively. In stark contrast, the Dolphins rushed 388 times and 310 times, which landed them at 22nd in 2014 and 32nd in 2015. According to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, Miller is expected to have a diverse roll, which means more opportunities in the passing game in additional to more rushing attempts.
At an average draft position of 13th overall, Miller could be a draft day steal considering he has an excellent chance to finish in the top five in fantasy, something a running back has not done in the last two seasons. Considering Miller finished sixth amongst running backs and 39th overall in 2015 with limited touches, new scenery with a coach who loves the ground game could mean pay dirt for Miller owners.
Allen Robinson – SELL
The 2015 season was a great year for Allen Robinson and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Thanks to the improved play of quarterback Blake Bortles, Robinson totaled 80 receptions for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns and finished 4th amongst wide receivers with 224 fantasy points in standard scoring leagues. It is important to note that wide receivers Marqise Lee and Bryan Walters, and tight end Julius Thomas were injured most of the season. Robinson’s only competition for touches in Jacksonville’s passing attack was Allen Hurns who compiled 64 receptions for 1,031 yards and 10 touchdowns.
While there has been plenty of speculation that last season was the beginning of Robinson’s breakout campaign, there are some issues to analyze. As previously mentioned, Julius Thomas and Marqise Lee dealt with a variety of injuries last season. Lee, who is a talented pass catcher, was expected to occupy one of the starting receiver positions before battling hamstring issues. Thomas, who was hobbled by hand and finger issues, was a touchdown machine (14) in 2014 with the Denver Broncos. With the return of Lee and Thomas, it is likely that Bortles spreads the ball around to his other weapons. In addition, it is probable that Robinson draws more double coverage thanks to his success in 2015. Let’s not forget, the Jaguars signed Chris Ivory in the offseason, which could mean more of an emphasis on the rushing attack in 2016.
At a current average draft position of 15th overall, it appears Allen Robinson is being drafted appropriately considering his production last season. However, now that there are more mouths to feed in Jacksonville and a chance that the run game gets more attention, I would expect a decrease in production for Robinson.
Brandin Cooks – BUY
After a fast start then a thumb injury that derailed his first season in the NFL, the speedster out of Oregon State bounced back the following season and showed why the New Orleans Saints drafted him 20th overall in 2014. In 2015, Cooks compiled 84 catches for 1,138 yards and nine touchdowns, finishing 12th overall in fantasy with 169.6 points in standard scoring leagues. The Saints finished first overall with 325.3 receiving yards per game, thanks to Cooks’ production and Drew Brees’ production
All signs point to the arrow continuing to point upward for Brandin Cooks in 2016. With the Saints, mainly Mark Ingram, demonstrating the ability to run the ball, corners and safeties are going to think twice about giving Cooks a cushion that could be exploited by the run game. In addition, Drew Brees’ go-to target and deep-ball specialist Marques Colston was not resigned in Free Agency. While Colston was not the same player in 2015 as he was in previous years, he was still “old faithful” for Drew Brees. Speaking of Drew Brees, he led the NFL with 4,870 passing yards in 2015. At this point in his career, Brees appears to be ageless and still willing to fling the ball downfield, which is where Cooks’ speed can take him in a flash. Though the Saints did sign Coby Fleener in the offseason and draft Ohio State wide receiver Michael Thomas, neither is a threat to Cooks, who fills the void left by Colston.
At his current average draft position of 27th overall, Cooks could provide a massive return on investment. While he may not be a target monster that benefits fantasy owners in PPR leagues, he could pay the most dividends in the yardage and touchdown categories in standard scoring leagues. With a defense that finished at the bottom of the leagues last years and several questions remaining this year, I suspect the Saints could be involved in several shootouts this season.
C.J. Anderson – SELL
With a top-ten ADP in 2015, C.J. Anderson joined a star-studded list of early round running back busts including Eddie Lacy, Jeremy Hill and DeMarco Murray. However, 2016 is a new season and Peyton Manning is retired. With a stable of quarterbacks lead by Mark Sanchez, yes, the “butt fumble” guy, it is highly likely that the Broncos will rely heavily on their ground game, an area where head coach Gary Kubiak has had plenty of success in the past. Under Gary Kubiak’s tutelage, eight running backs have had 15 1,000-yard seasons and one 2,000 yard season.
Before you circle, highlight or asterisk a target player on your draft sheet, there are several issues to consider when it comes to C.J. Anderson. Last season, Anderson shared carries with Ronnie Hillman, who bested Anderson in attempts (207 to 152), yards (863 to 720) touchdowns (7 to 5) and fantasy points (137.4 to 116.3). For a bigger back, Anderson also struggled to run between the tackles early in the season. Some of Anderson’s issues could be thanks to an offensive line that ranked 21st in run blocking according to Pro Football Focus. Though Denver was able to sign Russell Okung in the offseason, they let their best run-blocker Evan Mathis walk in free agency and they traded Ryan Clady. Unfortunately, a line that did not play well last season looks even worse on paper this year.
As previously mentioned, Peyton Manning is retired. While that may be a reason to like the Bronco’s rushing attack, it is unlikely that defenses are going to respect Mark Sanchez, or whoever the starter is, like they did Manning. As a result, Denver is going to see eight in the box on a regular basis, which means a bad offensive line is going to need to find a way to block more defenders. Considering Anderson’s power running style, he may have issues with contact in the backfield.
At his current ADP of 37th overall, your 4th round pick is better spent on someone else and waiting for a later round to draft a running back with more upside.
DeMarco Murray – SELL
In 2014, DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing with 1,845 yards. His stats that season (392 ATT for 1,845 YDS and 13 TDS and 57 REC for 416 YDS) resulted in a 7th place overall finish in fantasy football with a total of 294.1 points. Then, the season came to a close, Free Agency drama ensued and Murray was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles. Whether it was the offense, the downgraded offensive line, or fatigue from his use the prior season, Murray’s play fell off a cliff. Murray finished 27th amongst running backs with 702 rushing yards and 18th with 140.4 fantasy points. In the 2016 offseason, Murray was traded to the Tennessee Titans and the rumors of a resurgence abound.
A running back’s best friends are a quality quarterback and a proficient offensive line. While Marcus Mariota has demonstrated that he has a bright future, the Titan’s offensive line has Taylor Lewan and a bunch of question marks. Pro Football Focus ranks the front five in Tennessee 29th overall. Last season, the O-line’s struggles were apparent and nothing was done to improve the situation up front. Considering the struggles of the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive line last season, Murray may once again deal with being hit in the backfield. As a running back who likes to line up deep and get a full head of steam as he hits the line, Murray will most likely struggle again in 2016. Also, Murray will most likely compete with Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry for carries. Henry, an absolute bruiser at 6’3” and 238 lbs., was drafted by the Titans at 45th overall. He has all of the physical tools of an NFL running back. If Murray struggles, head coach Mike Mularkey may not hesitate to make his backfield a timeshare between Murray and Henry.
At an ADP of 46th overall, DeMarco Murray is being selected ahead of several running backs with better situations than his. While many analysts are projecting a renaissance for Murray, a bad call here could be the start of a dark age for your fantasy team.