NFC Position Battles to Monitor (Fantasy Football)

by Jordan McNamara | Featured Writer
May 5, 2018

Can Ameer Abdullah maintain any fantasy relevance in the pass-heavy Lions’ more crowded backfield?

After free agency and the NFL Draft, key positional competitions are developing. Below are the key competitions to monitor for each AFC team.

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NFC East

New York Giants – Receiving Targets
The 2018 Giants will see a revamped set of receiving options. Brandon Marshall was cut, Odell Beckham Jr. returns from injury and Saquon Barkley was selected with the second pick in the NFL Draft. With a big three receiving options Beckham, Evan Engram and Barkley, the Giants are in good shape.

They also have 2016 second round pick Sterling Shephard and have been speculated as a possible landing spot for Dez Bryant. The Giants offense could support Eli Manning, but is the opposite true? If Manning plays well, he could support top six positional seasons for both Engram and Beckham while Barkley sees 50-plus targets. Manning’s play and the ancillary receiving options are key to monitor in the offseason.

Dallas Cowboys – Wide Receiver
With the decision to cut Dez Bryant and the retirement of Jason Witten, the Cowboys are without 219 targets from 2017. Add in the trade of Ryan Switzer and the decision to let Brice Butler leave for Arizona, and Dallas has a totally reworked receiving corps.

Dallas has treated the problem with a volume approach. They signed Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson, traded for Tavon Austin, and drafted Michael Gallup on day two. Add in returning veteran Cole Beasley and Dallas has a lot of receiving options, but they are amongst the worst in the league. Someone has the get 100 plus targets, the question is who.

Philadelphia Eagles – Running Back
Philadelphia let LeGarrette Blount leave for Detroit in the offseason and did nothing to address the position in the draft. They did re-sign Darren Sproles to a one-year deal, and he will contribute to a committee including Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Donnell Pumphrey, and Wendall Smallwood. Ajayi figures to get the first crack at the starting job, but his volume and his passing involvement in a big committee are key areas to watch.

Washington Redskins – Receiving Targets
Any conversation about Washington’s receiving options must include questions about Jordan Reed’s ability to stay healthy. He has never played more than 14 games in a season and has missed 14 games in the past two seasons. They have useful backup Vernon Davis to fill in for Reed, if or when he is injured.

The season is key for Josh Doctson in his third year. Jamison Crowder also figures to have a prominent slot role, while the Redskins also signed Paul Richardson in free agency.

A deeper name to monitor is Mr. Irrelevant, Trey Quinn. He was a big-time recruit before landing at SMU as a transfer from LSU and overshadowed Courtland Sutton in the 2017 SMU offense. He has the skill set and athleticism to make the roster and contribute. The development of Doctson and the fit with Richardson are crucial aspects of this depth chart.

NFC North

Detroit Lions – Running Back
The Lions added LeGarrette Blount in free agency and then selected Kerryon Johnson with the 43rd pick in the draft. The Lions had the second fewest rushing attempts in 2017 with 363 and averaged a league-worst 3.4 yards per attempt.

LT Taylor Decker spent time on IR last season and was replaced by Greg Robinson, who acted like a turnstile. Add in the C Frank Ragnow, who was selected with the 20th pick, and the Lions look to be in better shape in the running game in 2018.

Ameer Abdullah also returns, while Theo Riddick looks locked into the passing down role. The number of rushes and their breakdown are vital places to monitor in what could be a dangerous offense in 2018.

Green Bay Packers – Running Back
Ty Montgomery was excellent to start the 2017 season before injuries forced him to miss extended time. Aaron Jones took over as the lead back for a couple of weeks and had nice success, including two RB4 weekly finishes in weeks five and seven. However, 40 of his 90 total touches came in those two weeks.

In addition, Jones was not a good pass catcher, catching only nine of his 18 targets for 22 yards. That is 1.2 yards per target, a putrid number. When Jones returned from injury late in the season, he never regained his position.

Jamaal Williams had three down ability with deceptively strong receiving ability and represents the most dependable running back in the Green Bay backfield, including two top-three weeks. Green Bay has shown a preference to lean on a lead back, so the preference is a key situation to monitor.

Chicago Bears – Running Back
The situation in Chicago is interesting. Jordan Howard operated as a true bell cow the past two seasons under a traditional John Fox coaching style. Now with Fox out, and head coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich in, the offense should change to some degree. The question is how much?

Helfrich was the head coach at Oregon after Chip Kelly and has spread concepts in his background, while Nagy engineered Kareem Hunt’s breakout rookie season. Nagy is a disciple of the Andy Reid coaching tree, which has a strong history of running back production, more in the mold of Tarik Cohen than Howard. Howard saw 299 touches in 2017 to Cohen’s 140. The ratio should change, but it’s crucial to monitor how much.

Minnesota Vikings – Receiving Targets
The Minnesota offense is amongst the most stable in football, outside of the transition from Case Keenum to Kirk Cousins. Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Kyle Rudolph form a solid trio of weapons.

Diggs (95 targets) missed two games last season, while Thielen (142 targets) led the passing attack team. Diggs is entering his fourth season and has yet to play more than 14 games in a season. If he logs a full season and establishes a rapport with Cousins, he could expand his role in the offense. The preseason relationship between Cousins and his receivers is important to watch.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons – Receiving Targets
Julio Jones (148 targets) returns in a lead role in the offense, but Mohamed Sanu (96 targets) remains in the offense, and Calvin Ridley was added with Atlanta’s first pick. Austin Hooper has developed over his first two seasons, more than doubling his rookie targets (27) in his second season (65).  Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 86 targets out of the backfield in 2018.

Atlanta’s offense threw 530 times last season, the 20th most in the league, largely on par with the 537 times they threw in 2016. The offense could be prolific, but with 16% of the targets going to Freeman and Coleman, the receivers other than Julio Jones could see a capped target share.

New Orleans Saints – Receiving Targets
Michael Thomas has developed into a full-fledged WR1, with 149 targets in 2017. The next most targets by a receiver were 70 by Ted Ginn. Alvin Kamara (100 targets) and Mark Ingram (71 targets), combined for nearly 32% of the team’s targets. The offense added Tre’Quan Smith with the 91st pick and Cameron Meredith in free agency. Ben Watson also returned at tight end, after spending 2017 in Baltimore.

With a more run-heavy approach than traditional Saints offenses, Drew Brees only threw 536 times, his least number of attempts since 2009. The breakdown of targets and the volume will be interesting, especially at the running back position.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Running Back
The common narrative in fantasy football since Ronald Jones was selected with the 38th pick has been he will be the lead back in Tampa Bay. However, at 208 pounds and averaging less than a catch a game in college, he does not profile as a traditional workhorse back.

Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers are both still on the team and could see passing game involvement, while Peyton Barber could serve as the short-yardage and goal-line back. The combination could be a successful formula for the Tampa Bay offense, but a quagmire for fantasy owners.

Carolina Panthers – Receiving Targets
The addition of first-round receiver D.J. Moore and free agent Torrey Smith to the Carolina offense expands the offense beyond what was primarily a three-headed passing game of Devin Funchess, Christian McCaffrey, and Greg Olsen late last season. Smith is never a target hog and Moore may take some time adjusting. Funchess is one of the least respected number one receivers in the NFL and may become a bargain, especially if the Panthers are forced to throw more than the 27th ranked 501 times in 2017.

NFC West

Seattle Seahawks – Receiving Targets
Seattle lost Jimmy Graham (96 targets), Paul Richardson (80 targets), and Luke Willson (22 targets) in free agency this season. Seattle did little to improve the offense in the offseason, outside of drafting Rashaad Penny with the 27th pick in the draft.

The primary beneficiaries could be Tyler Lockett, Nick Vannett, and Amara Darboh. C.J. Prosise also would be an interesting option if he could stay healthy. Seattle’s offensive weapons rank amongst the worst in the league, but there are plenty of targets available for a player who steps forward.

Los Angeles Rams – Receiving Targets
After Sammy Watkins left for Kansas City in free agency, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp looked to be locked into the top two receiving spots in the offense. The Rams then flirted with acquiring Odell Beckham Jr. before trading for Brandin Cooks. The offense also has two recent day two tight end selections in Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett, in addition to Todd Gurley. The Rams threw 518 times, the 24th most in the league, so fitting Cooks in the offense will be a squeeze unless the passing volume expands.

Arizona Cardinals – Receiving Targets
David Johnson returns after missing nearly all of 2017 and should be the second leading passing option after Larry Fitzgerald. They lost both John and Jaron Brown in the offseason but selected Christian Kirk in the second round. They also added Brice Butler to join J.J. Nelson and second-year receiver Chad Williams. If Kirk gets a good start, he could have an early role in an offense that is top heavy.

San Francisco 49ers – Receiving Targets
The 49ers offense got a shot in the arm from Jimmy Garoppolo late in 2017. Marquise Goodwin was a favorite target for Garoppolo, but the offense will have some reinforcements in the 2018 season.

Pierre Garcon returns from injury, while second-year players Trent Taylor and George Kittle continue to develop. Add in free agent acquisition Jerick McKinnon, and the offense is without a true elite target, but boasts several strong receiving options. The key to watch will be whether Garcon, Goodwin, or Kittle will see the volume necessary for a difference-making impact.

AFC Position Battles to Monitor (Fantasy Football)

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Jordan McNamara is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jordan, check out his archive and follow him @McNamaraDynasty.

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