These 2016 Duds Will Be Fantasy Football Studs in 2017

by Nate Hamilton | @DomiNateFF | Featured Writer
Jun 9, 2017

Expect DeAndre Hopkins to return to form in 2017

It happens every year. Players do not perform up to their potential for various reasons, whether it’s injury, coaching, game script, lack of talent around them, etc. All too often, fantasy football experts and fans alike will dismiss these players too quickly which leads to tremendous value as they fall into later rounds in fantasy drafts. I’ve decided to dive in and find which players will crawl out of the pit they fell into last season and become a big time stud on your fantasy team in 2017.

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DeAndre Hopkins (WR – HOU)

It feels like Hopkins has been in the league forever. Maybe it’s because he has played in all 16 games every season since he entered the NFL in 2013. It may also surprise you to learn that Hopkins will only be 25 years old heading into the 2017 season. Let’s face it, last year, Hopkins had his worst QB throwing to him in his career. He was still able to convert 78 receptions into just under 1,000 yards on the season.

In 2015, Hopkins proved that he can handle the workload as he was targeted an astonishing 192 times. Only two other WRs had more (Antonio Brown – 193 & Julio Jones – 203). Hopkins added 111 receptions for over 1,500 yards while scoring double-digit touchdowns that season (11). The good news for Hopkins heading into 2017? He will not have Brock Osweiler throwing to him. Whether it will be Tom Savage, Deshaun Watson, or a combination of both, they will lean on the veteran and pepper him with targets if they want to remain the starter. Hopkins had only four touchdowns in 2016. You can’t expect much more when your starting QB only throws for 15 touchdowns.

Houston’s run game plays a factor here as well. Lamar Miller is just not built to handle a big workload which should lead to some timeshare with rookie D’Onta Foreman. This Texans offense may have to lean on the passing game a bit more in 2017. Look for DeAndre Hopkins to have closer to 100 receptions and at least double his 2016 touchdown total placing him somewhere in the high-end WR2, low-end WR1 conversation.

Kelvin Benjamin (WR – CAR)

To call someone that had 941 receiving yards and seven touchdowns a “dud” may be a bit of a stretch, however, you’d still expect more out of Benjamin. There is no question that targets will be there for the No. 1 wide receiver of the Carolina Panthers offense in 2017, and with targets come opportunity. In his two active NFL seasons, Kelvin Benjamin played in all 32 regular season games and had well over 100 targets in each. The targets will not regress for this talented, 6’5″, 245-pound monster wideout. With an aging 32-year-old Greg Olsen (Newton’s other favorite target), it’s Benjamin’s time to take over as one of the leaders on the Panthers’ offense.

Benjamin’s 2016 season scared enough people where you can draft him in the seventh round in most fantasy drafts that I have mocked out. If he falls to you in the seventh, draft him. How many potential No. 1 wide receivers can you draft in the 7th round or later? I’ll tell you, it’s very few.

I wrote an article about Kelvin Benjamin prior to last season explaining why I thought he would have a big year in 2016. What I did not anticipate was the major regression of Cam Newton. That played a decent role in Benjamin’s “lack” of production last year. Newton may not be the MVP he was in 2015, but I know that he is not as bad as he was in 2016. Even if Newton’s true talent is somewhere in the middle of 2015 & 2016, it will reflect a much better overall season for his No. 1 wide receiver in 2017.

Julius Thomas (TE – MIA)

Yes, I’m buying into the hype of Adam Gase wanting to utilize Thomas in Miami as he did in Denver. To be honest, I am a bit concerned that he is not capable of staying on the field. That said, if Thomas can get at least 14 games out of 2017 we could see him once again as a top 10 tight end. He is a matchup nightmare in size at 6’5″, 256 pounds and will be a top red zone target for Ryan Tannehill along with DeVante Parker. Yes, this could make Thomas a touchdown-dependent option, but if Gase calls plays to feed him the ball in the red zone as much as he did during their time in Denver, there’s no reason Thomas can’t see a big jump in fantasy production in 2017.

Some food for thought on Thomas’ success under a Gase-led offense compared to his last two seasons.

  • Top 3 TE in 2013 – 14 games (DEN) Adam Gase (Offensive coordinator)
  • Top 7 TE in 2014 – 14 games (DEN) Adam Gase (Offensive coordinator)
  • Top 15 TE in 2015 – 12 games (JAX) Greg Olson (Offensive coordinator)
  • 29th overall TE in 2016 – 9 games (JAX) Greg Olson (Offensive coordinator)
  • 2017? – Adam Gase (MIA) (Head Coach). Clyde Christensen (Offensive coordinator) worked closely with Andrew Luck as the QB coach for Colts since 2012 before stepping in as OC for Dolphins last season.

Right now, you can get Julius Thomas dirt cheap in the late rounds or even post-draft.

Coby Fleener (TE – NO)

It may surprise you to hear that Coby Fleener finished as a top 12 fantasy TE last season in standard scoring. That may speak more to the lack of production out of the tight end position as a whole than the true value of Fleener. Regardless, it’s worth noting that Fleener had a far more productive season in his first year with Drew Brees than Jimmy Graham had in his first season with the Saints.

In his rookie season, Graham was Brees’ sixth option in the passing game. Graham was targeted less than wide receivers Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson, and fellow tight end Jeremy Shockey. Running back Reggie Bush even had more receptions than Graham. That all changed in Graham’s second season.

Jimmy Graham and Coby Fleener’s first-season stats with Drew Brees:

Player Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns Games Played
Jimmy Graham 44 31 356 5 15
Coby Fleener 82 50 631 3 16

After one year of chemistry with his quarterback, Graham’s stats catapulted as he had a career high in targets, receptions and receiving yards in his second season with Brees.

Jimmy Graham’s second season’s stats with Drew Brees:

Player Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns Games Played
Jimmy Graham 149 99 1310 11 16

What could this mean for Fleener in 2017? If Brees can establish a connection with Fleener as he did with Graham in their second season together, we are in for a treat. Fleener averaged 13 yards per reception in 2016 with Brees. With 117 targets gone in Brandin Cooks, expect a big increase in targets and receptions for Fleener. Fleener finished as a top 12 TE with only three touchdowns. His touchdowns will increase along with the rest of his stats in 2017 making him an absolute steal in the later rounds.

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Nate Hamilton is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Nate, check out his archive and follow him @DomiNateFF.

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