With the fantasy football draft season right around the corner, I’ve decided to do a breakdown on the fantasy-relevant players on every team, division by division. You can check out the previous columns here:
This column will cover the AFC East teams. I really like the AFC East teams for fantasy, and there’s a pretty good number of sleepers available out of the AFC East that could win you your league! All comments are with respect to a 10 team league with standard scoring.
New York Jets
QB: Oh Geno how you torment me so. Smith had five games of at least 20 fantasy points, showcasing the potential that made the Jets believe he was the long-term answer at QB. Unfortunately, he also had seven games where he failed to reach 10 fantasy points, showcasing the infuriating inconsistencies that allowed him to slip into the 2nd round of the 2012 NFL draft. I admit, I’m pretty enamored by his potential. He should be much improved with one year of NFL experience and his receiving core received a huge
boost with the addition of Eric Decker. I wouldn’t want him to be my starter in any league, but if you’re in a dynasty league or a deep league looking for a high-upside backup, Geno is a good guy to have. Michael Vick doesn’t excite me even a little bit. I’d rather take Sam Bradford, even if Vick was the starter.
RB: The running back situation promises to confound and frustrate fantasy owners all season. Chris Johnson only eclipsed 100 rushing yards twice last year, and that was when he was receiving the vast majority of the carries. Now that he has to share his backfield with Chris Ivory, I’d expect his carries and fantasy production to drop. This will likely be similar to the Panthers backfield in that if you could combine all the running back stats it’d make a pretty good running back, but separately they aren’t very start-able. Unless one gets hurt, which is possible especially given Ivory’s injury history, neither are going to be very useful in standard leagues.
WR: The conversation starts with Eric Decker. He is sure to go down in value after leaving Peyton Manning in free agency, but I think the hate has gone too far. He’s been a top 10 player at his position each of the past two years and yet some analysts have him ranked in the mid-30s at wide receiver. I wouldn’t want him to be one of my top two wide receivers in a standard league, but I think he’s a decent flex play. Other than Decker, all of the Jets receivers are just lottery tickets. Stephen Hill would be the only other wide receiver you might want to draft. I think he’s a decent post-hype sleeper with a chance to surprise people this year. That said, I wouldn’t take him before one of the last rounds in a standard league.
TE: The Jets drafted dynamic rookie tight end Jace Amaro in the second round of this year’s draft. He has some work to do as a blocker, but he will likely be one of the better pass-catching tight ends in the league in just a few years. That said, rookie tight ends are rarely valuable in fantasy football. He’s a guy to think about for dynasty leagues in particular. If Amaro can’t figure out how to become a better blocker this year, Jeff Cumberland will likely see significant play for the Jets. He’s about as interesting in fantasy football as his last name would imply. Which is to say, not at all.
D/ST: The Jets finished as the 22nd ranked fantasy football defense last year and it’s unlikely they improve. Their addition of rookie safety Calvin Pryor is offset by their loss of Antonio Cromartie. Go elsewhere for your defensive needs this year.
QB: E.J. Manuel is a lot like Geno Smith, but his big games weren’t as big and he was hurt for a decent chunk of the year. He was a guy most draft analysts predicted would be picked in the second or third round that ended up being picked in the first round, not unlike fellow Florida State University alum Christian Ponder. And look how that turned out! Just because he was drafted high doesn’t mean he automatically gained talent! If you have him in a deep dynasty league you might as well hang onto him just in case he figures it out, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. He’s irrelevant in standard league drafts.
RB: I’ve already given my opinion on Fred Jackson here. So the question becomes, where should you draft C.J. Spiller. Spiller was terrible last year. Jackson is still there to vulture touchdowns and he hurt his ankle early in the season and he never really recovered. He doomed many fantasy owners last year, including yours truly. But for some reason, I just can’t bring myself to hate him. Check out this player comparison:
In one season, Player A had 1,244 yards rushing at 6.0 yards per carry, six rushing touchdowns and 459 receiving yards.
In a different season, Player B had 1,120 yards rushing at 5.9 yards per carry, seven rushing touchdowns and 297 receiving yards.
Player A was C.J. Spiller in 2012, while Player B was Jamaal Charles in 2009. I think the performance issues last year were attributable to the ankle injury, and the Jamaal Charles-like potential is too enticing for me to pass on. The risk drops him out of the first round for me, but he’s just on the edge of a top 10 running back. Just make sure to have a backup plan.
WR: Sammy Watkins is the WR1 in Buffalo. And for good reason, he’s fast, big, talented, and a sure bet to go over drafted this year. Rookie wide receivers rarely perform as well or consistently as you think they will, as shown in this article from FFToday. Last year the consensus top rookie wide receiver was Tavon Austin, who turned out to be a waste of a draft pick. I think Watkins has a promising future as a star in the NFL, but I wouldn’t be comfortable with him as a week one starter on my fantasy team. I think the only other interesting receiver on the Bills is Robert Woods. He flashed some serious potential last year and a great relationship with E.J. Manuel. He is a great late-round sleeper with WR2 upside.
TE: Scott Chandler is the Bills leading tight end, but I wouldn’t rely on him for fantasy unless I was pretty desperate. Between the health issues, rough QB situation and uneven play in the past, he’s not a guy I find interesting.
D/ST: The Bills defense was actually sneaky good last year, as they finished the season as the number eight fantasy defense. They have a young secondary who should be improved this year and they play in a relatively weak division. Fantasy owners interested in the Bills will need to monitor the legal issues of Marcell Dareus, but I would be perfectly happy drafting the Bills defense in the penultimate round of my draft.
QB: The offensive line was a dumpster fire last year, both on and off the field. This terrible situation stunted the progress of many of the Dolphins young players, including quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The incredible thing is that even in playing behind that toxic line and with all the distractions, Tannehill stayed remarkably consistent. He was a pretty decent bet to get you about 14 points a game no matter who he was playing. With all the additions including Branden Albert and Ja’Wuan James, the line situation should be much better. Tannehill is one of my favorite sleeper QBs this season, and if I take a “high-risk” quarterback with my top selection, this is the guy I want as the backup. He can be drafted in the last round of standard league drafts, and he provides you with a reliable number two quarterback with considerable upside. What’s not to like?
RB: The running back situation in Miami will be one of the most interesting to watch throughout the preseason. The Dolphins signed Knowshon Moreno in the off season, presumably to be their lead back. However, his job is definitely not secure. There were always questions as to whether Moreno’s success last year was due to his actual talent or Peyton Manning’s ability to audible into favorable looks for the running game. Moreno also showed up to camp out of shape and he’s currently listed behind Lamar Miller in the depth chart at OTAs. Consequently, Miller is one of my favorite steals at the end of this year’s draft. People have always been enamored with his potential and it’s looking like he’s finally going to get a chance to produce behind a decent offensive line. He’s ranked as low as the 45th running back by some websites behind the likes of Bernard Pierce and Tre Mason. Don’t miss out.
WR: Mike Wallace was a giant disappointment to his owners last season. He finished as the 26th ranked wide receiver after his owners hoped he would be a starting wide receiver. Like the rest of the Dolphins offense however, I think he’s due for a bounce back season. He’s also ranked in the 30s at wide receiver for in most rankings, which is pretty low for his potential and past production. Brian Hartline is likely worth a late-round flier but not much more than that. Brandon Gibson would be a sneaky flier for deeper leagues, he had some big games last year before his knee injury.
TE: Charles Clay is one of the better young tight ends in the league. He finished as the number seven tight end last year, and with the retirement of Tony Gonzalez and the continued decline of Jason Witten, he’ll likely finish better than that this year. He’s a player I’m targeting if I don’t get one of the top three tight ends.
D/ST: The Dolphins signed Cortland Finnegan to play as a starting cornerback for them because he was an upgrade over what their previous player. An upgrade. Let that sink in. Needless to say, the Dolphins should be left undrafted this year in fantasy football.
New England Patriots
QB: It looks like Tom Brady’s days as a top fantasy option at quarterback are over after he finished as the 13th fantasy QB last year. In my mind, you basically have to believe one of two things about Brady:
1. His weakened wide receiving core was the cause of his struggles. If so, I don’t see many reasons for optimism. He has essentially the same receiving core as last year. They added Brandon LaFell, a player whose hype always exceeded his production, and Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola are healthy, but who knows how long that will last? If the receivers were the issue last year you shouldn’t expect Brady to be a better fantasy QB this year.
2. His skills are on the decline as he gets older, in which case he’d perform at least as poorly as last year.
Either way, for me Brady isn’t a starting QB in 10 team fantasy leagues anymore. He’s definitely worthy of being picked in the top 12-14 quarterbacks because he’s Tom Brady, but I would rather have a player with significant upside like Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson than Tom Brady.
RB: Shane Vereen looks to be the lead back in New England this year, and I think he’s due for a breakout season. He looked great
before he got injured at the start of last year, and the Patriots clearly don’t trust Stevan Ridley with any kind of feature role. Vereen is one of my favorite players this year, I’d be totally fine with him as my RB2 going into the season. In a PPR league, he’d push my top 10. Ridley is a mid-round lottery ticket, nothing more. He still has plenty of potential, but I wouldn’t be comfortable having him penciled in as a starter at the beginning of the season.
WR: Ugh. Beyond Julian Edelman this gets ugly quickly. As Brady’s favorite target, Edelman is a strong flex play for me, or a decent WR2 in a pinch. Danny Amendola was supposed to be a star with Patriots, but every bone is his body shatters the instant he sees a football in flight. He’s a pure lottery ticket, and I wouldn’t take him with anything earlier than a late-round pick. The only other wide receivers worth talking about are sophomores Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. Of the two, I’d rather have Dobson, but I don’t think either are worth drafting in a standard league. Both are worth looks in deeper leagues though, and if one significantly outperforms the other and becomes the Patriots unquestioned third receiver, they’d be worth a look towards the end of the draft.
TE: Oh Gronk. He’s the best tight end in football when he’s healthy. When deciding when to draft Gronkowski, you have to ask yourself whether you’d rather have 8-12 games of Gronk and 4-8 games of replacement-value tight end or if you’d rather have a lesser tight end like Greg Olsen or Kyle Rudolph for closer to 16 games. Gronk is firmly behind the studs for me, and he’s JUST behind Julius Thomas with the Broncos. Players like Michael Hoomanawanui and Zach Sudfeld disappointed owners thinking they could handcuff Gronk, so I wouldn’t try it. If Gronk gets hurt, look elsewhere for a replacement.
D/ST: The Patriots defense is one of the favorite defenses this year. They actually played pretty well before their entire run defense was injured and the addition of Darrelle Revis should give them a a smothering pass defense. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they were a top 10 fantasy defense.
Come back next week for the NFC and AFC South!