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Interesting Tidbits to Consider for 2017

Jan 11, 2017

Odell Beckham is the NFL's most elusive wideout

Odell Beckham may be the NFL’s most elusive wideout

Incredibly, another NFL season is in the books. 2016 saw a number of impressive individual breakout performances and a number of very surprising fantasy busts. As a fantasy football veteran for the better part of two decades, I would say 2016 was perhaps the most unpredictable season from a fantasy perspective.

Heading into 2017 fantasy football drafts, owners will have the difficult task of figuring out which 2016 individual performance breakouts and busts were legitimate and which were simply statistical flukes that won’t be reproduced. The below quick tidbits may help shed light on which players should be targeted in 2017 redraft or dynasty leagues, and which players may be potential 2017 sleepers or busts.

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In 2016, the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill became one of only two players since the 1970 merger with a 60-yard TD in four straight games.

Tyreek Hill was one of the biggest breakout surprises of 2016. Based on this historic statistic and what we saw in 2016, Hill’s speed and big playmaking ability are absolutely unquestioned. It will be exciting to see what Hill can do in the NFL playoffs if the Chiefs make a deep run beginning this Sunday against the Steelers.

With just under 600 yards receiving on 63 receptions in 2016, to go with 267 rushing yards and explosive punt return capabilities, Hill should be a high-end WR2 value heading into 2017 (and perhaps higher value in those leagues that value punt return yardage/TDs). To those owners in dynasty leagues who drafted Hill in late rounds or who scooped him up off of the waiver wire mid-season, congratulations on securing a player who should be an excellent fantasy contributor in 2017.

Drew Brees reached 5,000 pass yards for the fifth time in his career in 2016.

By comparison, no other NFL QB has accomplished this feat more than twice. Absolutely incredible. Without question, Brees remains an elite talent late in his career with no signs of slowing down. In 2017, the Saints will have a somewhat difficult road schedule facing, in part, the Bills, Vikings and Packers away from the Superdome.

That said, while Brees’ troubles away from home are well-documented, his ability to carry a seasonal or DFS fantasy team to a weekly victory by himself is certainly worth the risk of drafting him as one of the first QBs off the board and rolling the dice with him outside of New Orleans. I’m certainly all in on Brees in 2017 despite the daunting Saints’ road games outside of the NFC South.

Odell Beckham had 29 missed tackles forced on receptions in 2016 which was the second-most of any receiver since 2007.

When Beckham catches the ball (sorry, I’m a bitter Giants fan right now), his ability to force missed tackles is what propels him to elite WR status with massive big-playmaking ability. Beckham, incredibly, forced as many missed tackles as Antonio Brown, Jordy Nelson, Mike Evans, Julio Jones, DeSean Jackson and Brandin Cooks combined in 2016. That’s unreal.

Moreover, in Week 16, Beckham had his 19th career game with at least 100 receiving yards which tied Randy Moss for the most by a player in his first three seasons. Elite company indeed. At the age of 36 now, Eli Manning may very well be in decline, but Beckham’s capability to force missed tackles allows him to turn short yardage receptions into home run plays – just ask the Cowboys.

Despite all of the bad press concerning boats, walls, kicking nets, defensive back confrontations, non-calls on pass interferences and a poor Wild Card performance, Beckham remains an elite talent who should be one of the first WRs off the board in 2017. If the Giants can address glaring issues with their OL in the offseason, pick up a TE and develop a more consistent game plan on offense, Beckham is in line for an even bigger 2017.

In 2016, Jameis Winston became the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for more than 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons.

Jameis Winston threw 28 touchdown passes in 2016, six more than he did in his solid rookie season of 2015. In 2016 he also increased his passer rating from 84.2 (in 2015) to 86.1. With another year of NFL experience under his belt and a developing offensive unit in Tampa Bay, heading into 2017, Winston will lead an exciting young crop of QBs, including Marcus Mariota, Dak Prescott and Derek Carr, as the next fantasy QB studs.

Dynasty owners who currently have Winston rostered will want to evaluate what his draft/auction cost will be in 2017 to keep him. Winston should certainly finish as a top-10 QB in 2017 with legitimate top-five potential.

In 2016, Greg Olsen became the first tight end in NFL history to have three straight 1000-yard receiving seasons.

Greg Olsen accomplished this feat despite a down year from Cam Newton and the Panthers’ offense. With the injuries suffered by Rob Gronkowski in 2016, Greg Olsen has become the top tight end fantasy option heading into 2017 based on his historic yardage consistency. Not surprisingly, owners in re-draft formats should be very comfortable selecting Olsen as the top TE off the board in 2017.

Dak Prescott averaged an impressive 11.8 yards per completion in 2016.

Speaking of the new young crop of fantasy-relevant QBs, in 2016 Dak Prescott threw for 3667 yards, 23 touchdowns on 459 pass attempts with just four interceptions in 2016. His YPC which exceeded 10 yards indicates that he wasn’t simply throwing short screen passes to Ezekiel Elliott but, instead, was accurately throwing downfield to his receiving weapons without being picked off.

With a monstrous OL giving Prescott time to throw downfield and a year of experience behind him, he also heads into 2017 as a consistent and viable QB1 with a high ceiling who dynasty owners should be very reluctant to release into the draft pool. As a side-note, despite my allegiance to the Giants, as a DFS player, I will be very interested to see how Prescott performs in what should be a very exciting Divisional Round playoff game against the banged up Packers secondary this Sunday.

In seven of his last eight regular season games in 2016, Amari Cooper had less than 60 yards receiving.

He also managed just 10 yards (on two receptions) in the Raiders’ Wild Card loss to the Texans last weekend. As an Amari Cooper owner, it was frustrating to see Michael Crabtree consistently targeted (particularly in the red zone) in Oakland’s offense. Following his Week 8 breakout game against Tampa Bay in which Cooper went for 12-173-1, Cooper’s best line came in Week 16 against the Colts where he managed 76 yards on five receptions.

Despite topping 1,000 yards receiving once again, Cooper was second in receiving for the Raiders with 83 receptions (to Crabtree who had 89) and was somewhat of a fantasy disappointment in 2016 for those owners who, perhaps foolishly, relied upon him as a WR1 or high-end WR2. Too many weapons in the Oakland offense and 22 drops over the past two seasons (to lead all of the NFL) has limited Cooper’s fantasy upside. For fantasy purposes, owners who are looking to Cooper as a bona fide WR1 in 2017 need to manage expectations.

His game log justifies his draft value as a solid WR2 (roughly a WR in the 20-24 ADP range) with a high ceiling. Based on his 2016 performance, owners should not reach for Cooper in 2017, despite pre-season ECRs which could place him in the top-10-to-15 range.

Mike Evans finished 2016 in the top five in the NFL in touchdowns, receptions and receiving yards.

Alternatively, Mike Evans had an incredibly impressive 2016. He set new career bests in receptions with 96, receiving yards with 1,321, targets with 175 and tied a career best with 12 TDs (which he also accomplished in 2014). In addition, Evans converted 81 first downs, which was 15 more than any other wide receiver in the NFL, and, according to Pro Football Focus, moved the chains on 84.4% of his catches (which was the most of any players with 25 or more catches).

Absolutely instrumental to sustained Tampa Bay drives in 2016, there is no reason to believe Evans won’t be the favorite target of Jameis Winston again in 2017 when looking to move the ball downfield. A bonafide WR1, the sure-handed Evans is clearly in rarified air with Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham, A.J. Green and Dez Bryant. Owners debating WR rankings for next season should be quite comfortable making Evans the fourth or fifth WR off the board in 2017 drafts.

Aaron Rodgers scored 44 of the Packers’ 51 touchdowns in 2016.

By comparison, Tom Brady scored just 28 of the Patriots’ 51 touchdowns. Even missing Randall Cobb for four games this season (and Cobb’s limited participation in other games), Aaron Rodgers still managed to throw for 40 TDs (and rush for four more) in what was an amazing season for the veteran. He is red hot right now and single-handedly brought the Packers back from the brink of elimination to a date with the Cowboys in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

Rumors of Rodgers’ decline have been greatly exaggerated. The (obvious) central component of this Green Bay offense, Rodgers will certainly remain a top fantasy QB option. He’ll also continue to elevate the value of not only his veteran receiving options, Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb, but also enhance the value of fantasy “newcomer” Ty Montgomery and potential 2017 TE fantasy sleeper Jared Cook who came on strong to end 2016.

Jay Ajayi became the fourth player in NFL history with back-to-back 200-yard games in 2016.

Jay Ajayi accomplished this feat in Weeks 6 and 7 against Buffalo and Pittsburgh. Ajayi also broke the 200-yard barrier again in Week 16 against Buffalo. Despite a very odd and slow start to the season, which included a healthy inactive tag in Week 1 (he didn’t even travel with the team to Seattle that week), he took over lead rushing duties for the Dolphins in Week 6 and finished the season with 1,272 rushing yards and eight rushing TDs.

It would have been nicer to see more rushing consistency out of the explosive Ajayi where he only managed four weeks of 100+ yards (three of them being the 200-yard games already mentioned) after Week 5. But owners who didn’t give up on Ajayi too soon in 2016 were handsomely rewarded with an RB2 who performed as an elite RB1 in certain weeks. It will be interesting to see what percentage of eventual league champions had Ajayi rostered in 2016.

Heading into 2017, dynasty owners who currently own Ajayi should certainly retain his services, again depending on what his draft or auction cost will be in 2017. Ajayi should enter 2017 as a low-end RB1 with a very high ceiling particularly if he can become a more consistent back on a week-to-week basis behind an OL which should be improved in 2017.

In 2016, Frank Gore became the first player ever to have at least 1,200 yards from scrimmage in 11 straight seasons.

With 1,025 rushing yards and 277 receiving yards on 38 receptions in 2016, Frank Gore continues to defy the odds and keeps getting it done. “Old Man” Gore (he’s only 33, and I’m pushing my late 40s, by the way) topped 1,000 rushing yards for the ninth time in his career and improved on his YPC in 2016 with 3.9 versus 3.7 in 2015. While he failed to reach 4.0 YPC for only the second time in his career (2015 being the first) Gore’s value is volume driven, and he remains a key cog in the Colts’ offense.

Until that changes, Gore will continue to be viable, consistent, and a relatively cheap RB2 option for owners willing to roll the dice on him each season. Much like Aaron Rodgers, the veteran isn’t going anywhere, and he provides fantasy owners with much-needed consistency (he again played all 16 games this season) at the RB position in the early middle rounds of drafts.

Now, it’s on to fantasy baseball prep. Enjoy your off-season and see you in September!

Nicky Tapas is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Nicky, check out his archive and follow him @nickytapas71

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