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Strategy & Analysis
|Matthew Hill has proven to be one of the industry’s most accurate
fantasy analysts, finishing 8th out of 125 “experts” in his first year
competing in the Fantasy Pros In-Season Accuracy contest. He followed
up his top-ten season, with a top 1/3 finish in 2015. An enthusiast of
best-ball, auctions and draft-only leagues, Matthew loves the variety
of leagues offered at Dataforce Fantasy Football and is excited to be
a part of its expansion into fantasy rankings and analysis.
A native of San Diego, Matthew lives with his wife and four kids in St. Louis, Missouri.
July 12 - Top Options For Streaming Defenses
by Matthew Hill
When it comes to drafting fantasy defenses, there are three main strategies—investing a late-mid-round pick on one of the elite defenses, selecting two or three top defenses and using a committee approach, or waiting until the final rounds to grab a defense to use for the first week or two with the idea of working the wire all season, plugging in whatever defense was available and matched up with a lackluster offense…otherwise known as “streaming.”
Those who prefer to stream defenses understand the benefits of this approach. Unlike those who reach for an “elite” defense, streamers will not worry about missing out on selecting the next Jordan Howard, that undervalued, potential league-winning sleeper that usually comes off the board about the time that some owners are taking long, hard looks at the Denver or Kansas City defenses. Since streamers are content to rely on the waiver wire each week for their defense, streamers can go into the season with a bench full of potential flex options, unlike those defense by committee owners who allocate one or more bench spots to a second/third defense.
With streamers in mind, I offer this list of defenses to target on draft day. Each defense has a realistic possibility of being available in the final rounds of the draft. Denver, Seattle, Houston, Kansas City, Minnesota, and New England were not included in the analysis as these six typically require an investment of more than a late-round pick.
Teams were ranked based on a combination of talent (especially pass rush/turnover potential), an overall team philosophy/scheme that places an emphasis on low-scoring games, and most importantly, their first two to four games. I chose to analyze schedules through the first four weeks as byes begin in week five, and with that the likelihood of more defenses being available on the wire as committee types jettison those extra defenses to fill out lineups.
Any reference to fantasy points/ranking are based on Dataforce settings. Owners will need to examine other platform’s settings in order to fine tune their own rankings based on emphasis on yardage, points given up, turnovers, sacks, etc.
1. Pittsburg (@CLE, MIN, @CHI, @BAL)
Tied for ninth in sacks in 2016, the Steelers were the number six overall unit last season but continue to get overlooked in drafts. With Cleveland, Minnesota, Chicago and Baltimore to start the year, they are my top later-round target. Their entire schedule is full of potential low-scoring affairs, making them a great target for those using a committee approach or in best-ball leagues as well.
2. Baltimore (@CIN, CLE, @JAX, PIT)
Tenth in Dataforce leagues, the Ravens open against a Bengals team with arguably the worst line in football, get Cleveland with their quarterback woes at home, then go to Jacksonville to take on another team with a questionable line. Even a home game against the explosive Steelers doesn’t frighten me as Pittsburg’s road woes are well-chronicled and the Ravens historically play their divisional rivals tough.
3. Jacksonville (@HOU, TEN, BAL, @NYJ)
An improved defense with a new emphasis on establishing the ground game should see the Jaguars involved in many low-scoring contests. Games against the Texans and Baltimore should be slugfests and they get the Jets in week four. Whomever is playing the Jets should be a top target of streamers that week.
4. Carolina (@SF, BUF, NO, @NE)
Yes, you will need to find another option when they go to New England in week four, but oh those first two weeks. When their most hyped player this offseason has been Pierre Garcon, I don’t expect San Francisco to scare anyone. Buffalo has playmakers, but I fully expect this contest in Carolina to be a fast-played, low-scoring game with both teams emphasizing the ground game.
5. Green Bay (SEA, @ATL, CIN, CHI)
You’re not playing them in week two, but the Packers who finished sixth in the NFL in sacks in 2016 should have no trouble posting double-digit fantasy points at home against the Seahawks, Bengals, and Bears.
6. Buffalo (NYJ, @CAR, DEN, @ATL)
Despite finishing as the number nineteen defense in 2016 Dataforce leagues, Buffalowill be locked in as a top-five defense for week one. Why? They get the Jets at home. A road game verses Carolina and Denver at home make them a decent option for weeks two and three as well.
7. Cincinnati (BAL, HOU, @GB, @CLE)
Other than a likely massacre at Green Bay, the Bengals early schedule should feature three low-scoring games.
8. Oakland (@TEN, NYJ, @WASH, @DEN)
Their opener at Tennessee makes me nervous and I would not play them against Washington, but a week two home game vs the Jets make Oakland a quality late-round option.
9. Tampa Bay (@MIA, CHI, @MIN, NYG)
Fourth in team interceptions and tied for ninth in sacks in 2016, Tampa Bay is an underrated defense with a soft three game start to the season.
10. Indianapolis (@LAR, ARI, CLE, @SEA)
The Colts defense is uninspiring but hard games against the Rams and Browns make them a viable option. A week five home game verses San Francisco is also on the horizon.
11. Tennessee (OAK, @JAX, SEA, @HOU)
While there are no any true cupcakes on their early schedule, the Titans defense can get to the quarterback (sixth in sacks in 2016) and I would not be surprised if each of their first four games are low scoring.
12. San Francisco (CAR, @SEA, LAR, @ARI)
Unless you are in the deepest of leagues or in one with the world’s greatest 49ers homer, the San Francisco defense will not be drafted. Streamers should keep their defense on their watch list as the Rams come to town in week three.
June 13 - 2017 Fantasy Football Sleepers
by Matthew Hill
Not all sleepers are found at the end of drafts. In the age of magazines and hand scribbled cheat sheets, back when fantasy sports were a quirky, underground obsession and dinosaurs ruled the earth, there were still potentially productive players that managed to fly under the radar. Identifying these players took some effort (watching hours of Sportscenter hoping to uncover a nugget of information from camp, obsessing over preseason box scores, and for the truly dedicated, reading out of town newspapers), but gave their owners a major advantage over the rest of their league. However, in this age of Twitter and Rotoworld, the unknown player is all but extinct. Information on every potentially fantasy relevant player is readily available with a quick search.
While it’s true that the true unknown player is a thing of the past, this does not mean that it is time to retire the term “sleeper.” Sleepers still exist. They’re still around and they reside throughout the draft, not just in its final rounds. Sleepers are any player that the fantasy community is largely undervaluing based on his opportunity and high floor/upside. I will be highlighting players whose ADPs scream value not only in the late rounds but early and middle rounds as well. Those taking part in early drafts should be looking to take advantage of the highlighted players’ current ADPs as they are likely to rise in the coming months as a summer full of articles, Tweets, and news blurbs pushing them up preseason ranking.ADPs are taken from myfantasyleague.com.
Early Rounds (Rounds 1-4)Isaiah Crowell (ADP 37)
My biggest regret from my early drafts was not buying more Isaiah Crowell. With an abundance of picks and a draft full of backfield talent, I had assumed that Cleveland would be selecting a back at some point to compete with Crowell and Duke Johnson for touches. The Browns would add a back, but not until their final selection when they took NC State’s Matthew Dayes with the second to last pick in the draft. With that, the Browns sent a clear message--they were happy with what they saw with Isaiah Crowell last season.
What they saw was a back who was second in the league in yards after contact (per Pro Football Focus) and was a reliable back at the goal line as well as on third down, rushing for eight scores and catching forty passes in his third year.
Crowell will be running behind an improve line that the Browns invested heavily in this offseason, including the addition of Bengals standout Kevin Zeitler, whom the Browns made the highest-paid guard in NFL history.
Given his recent production, expected workload, and quality of his offensive line, I am would rather have Crowell than 2nd-round mainstays like Lamar Miller and Todd Gurley but will only need to use an early fourth to acquire him. Buy now, as the Crowell hype train has been steadily gaining speed over the past several weeks.
Early Mid-Rounds (Rounds 5-8)Danny Woodhead (ADP 80)
The last time Danny Woodhead played a full season, way back in 2015, he was a top four running back in PPR leagues. Last season, he had five catches, totaled 120 yards and scored a receiving touchdown in week one, before his season ended early the following week when he tore his ACL against Jacksonville.
Fully healed, Danny Woodhead moves on to Baltimore where the Ravens are desperate for pass-catchers. The losses of Steve Smith, Dennis Pitta and Kyle Juszczykalone account for 271 missing targets from last season.
With expected starter Kenneth Dixon suspended the first four games and the Ravens historically being a team that targets their running backs heavily, Woodhead is an absolute steal in the seventh as the 29th back off the board. Two years removed from a top-four finish and going to a team that wants him to be a centerpiece of their offense, Woodhead is someone I am targeting in all of my drafts.
Late Mid-Rounds (9-12)Quincy Enuwa (ADP 136)
Earlier this month I identified Quincy Enuwa as one of this season’s most underrated receivers, calling him the Jets number one option in the passing game, despite Eric Decker still being on their roster. Now that Decker has been released, there is little doubt who is the go-to guy in New York’s passing attack.
No one is expecting the New York Jets to be competitive this season. In fact, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah recently Tweeted a quote from an unnamed NFL executed describing the Jets as having “the worst roster I have seen in a decade.” This is exactly why owners should owners be drafting Enuwa. He stands out amongst a receiving corps filled with uninspiring, unproductive pass catchers, and with the Jets poised to be trailing early and often, Enuwa is the likely recipient of plentiful garbage time looks. It is not often that a team’s clear number one receiver is available in the double-digit rounds and owners should jump on the opportunity to add what could be a high-volume receiver at a bargain basement cost.
Late Rounds (13-End)
In the late rounds, I am looking to fill the final spots on my bench with top-tier handcuffs. Unless you’re in an extremely deep PPR league (such as Dataforce’s “Deep” leagues), I am avoiding committee backs with limited value such as Shane Vereen or Chris Thompson (the exception being if you’re looking for a cheap RB5/RB6 in draft-only leagues, where you don’t have to guess which weeks they’re going to catch a half dozen passes or find the end zone). Instead, I am looking for backs that have a shot at serving as three-down workhorses if the lead back were to go down. With that understanding I am targeting the following backs in the final rounds.Jonathan Williams (ADP 162)
Takes over as LeSean McCoy’s backup, a role that allowed former backup Mike Gillislee to reach 18 PPR points last season when McCoy was forced to miss week eight. Williams would have instant RB2 value in the Bills run-heavy offense if McCoy were inactive.D’Onta Foreman (ADP 166)
Is likely to get first crack at early-down and goal-line work if Lamar Miller were to miss time.James Conner (ADP 196)
While he will need to earn the top backup job this preseason, we all know what DeAngelo Williams was able to do when Le’Veon Bell was sidelined.Branden Oliver (ADP 219)
Impressing at voluntary workouts, Branden Oliver looks back from last season’s torn achilees and is ready to assume top backup duties in the Chargers prolific offense.Darren McFadden (ADP 220)
With an ADP nearing the 20th round, it seems that the fantasy community has largely forgotten how productive Darren McFadden was the last time he was given the opportunity to be the Cowboys lead back.
Mar 22 - Buyer Beware—Players Owners Should be Avoiding at Their ADP
by Matthew Hill
It used to not be an issue. Owners always drafted at the end of August, usually the weekend before the season was set to kick off. If league members were particularly anxious to get to it, they may opt to “draft early” and hold their draft party just after the third round of preseason games. Either way, draft charts were set, freak offseason/preseason injuries were accounted for, and rankings based on this knowledge were readily available. Thanks to the recent rise in the popularity of draft-early leagues, more and more people are scratching their draft itch by taking part in the fun, low-maintenance offerings.
There is a danger that comes with taking part in fantasy drafts this early. Players roles are uncertain as teams add new talent, both through free agency and the draft. Thomas Rawls is the perfect example of a player that was being selected too soon in recent drafts in spite of numerous red flags. Rawls had an inconsistent, injury-riddled 2016, where he never seemed to regain that late-season 2015 magic. With C.J. Prosise expected to dominate passing-down work, and potentially push him for early-down snaps, combined with rumors of Seattle possibly looking to bring in a veteran back into the mix, owners should have been avoiding Rawls. That wasn’t the case. Rawls was routinely going in the fifth, often sneaking into the fourth, despite all warning signs. It wasn’t until the Seahawks added Eddie Lacy to the backfield mix that Rawls saw his ADP plummet. For those who had selected Rawls prior to the signing, they were stuck with shares of a player that no longer held anything close to his previous perceived value.
Even though most big-name free agents have found homes, there is still much to be decided in the coming months when it comes to offensive depth charts. The draft as well as other factors threaten to destroy the value of several players in the same way that Eddie Lacy sent Rawls’ ADP plummeting. Who are those players that owners should be most leery of drafting at their current ADP? I have identified five players that I would be cautious of taking at their current price tag until we have more clarity on what their role will be next season. Each player has an ADP somewhere within the first eight rounds of current MFL10s and Dataforce Draftmaster leagues and each one comes with a significant level of uncertainty.C.J. Anderson
Memories of a productive 2014 season combined with the inability of Devonta Booker to seize the job when given the opportunity last season has C.J. Anderson going at the 3/4 turn in early drafts. Owners using one of their top three picks on the Broncos back may be setting themselves up for disappointment. Anderson has struggled throughout his career to stay healthy, having yet to appear in all sixteen games in any of his four seasons. When he has been healthy, Anderson has struggled to replicate the numbers of his 2014 season. He has seen his yards per-carry drop from a solid 4.7 yards per-carry to an uninspiring 4.0 in seven games last season. Combine that with rumors of the Broncos looking to draft a running back, possibly as early as the first round (the Christian McCaffrey talk has been getting louder the past several weeks) and Anderson is someone owners would be wise to steer clear of the first four rounds.Keenan Allen
Keenan Allen has shown the potential to be a top-tier fantasy wide receiver when he is on the field. It is this potential that has Allen being drafted at the 2/3 turn. Unfortunately, Allen has not been spending much time on the field, appearing in a combined eight games the past two seasons. Besides his injury history, the immergence of young play makers such as Tyrell Williams, Hunter Henry, and Melvin Gordon should lead to a Charger offense that is explosive, but one that will spread the football around. Of course, there is the chance that Allen plays all sixteen games as his team’s go-to receiver, but I would rather use that same pick on Doug Baldwin, DeMarco Murray or Brandin Cooks, all with ADPs in the same neighborhood as Allen.Amari Cooper
Speaking of overpriced wide receivers, I continue to be puzzled by Amari Cooper’s ADP. Unlike the other players on this list, Cooper’s role is secure and clearly defined going into 2017. And that role is being the co-number one receiver for Oakland. Cooper finished 2016 with a receiving line of 83/1153/5, while teammate Michael Crabtree posted a very similar line of 89/1003/8. Crabtree’s ADP has him going in the fourth of early drafts. Cooper? He has an ADP of 14th overall, just after Dez Bryant and before Jordy Nelson. I understand the talent and the potential that Cooper possesses, but until he proves to be the clear-cut, number one option in his own offense, there is no way I am taking him above Dez, Jordy, or LeSean McCoy at the same spot.Dalvin Cook
An impressive highlight package, combined with pass-catching ability has rookie Dalvin Cook going in the late third of early draft-only leagues. Yes, it is possible that Cook will join Zeke and Gurley as the next running back to have tremendous success their rookie year, but I have my doubts. Cook was plagued by ball security issues at Florida State, losing the football thirteen times. In addition, Cook has a troublesome injury history, tearing his rotator cuff in high school, then suffering a torn labrum to the same shoulder twice in college, as well as dealing with hamstring issues throughout the 2015 season. Add in character concerns and a lackluster combine and I will not be going anywhere near him at his early ADP.Paul Perkins
I am a fan of Paul Perkins. I felt he was one of the most underrated backs in last year’s class and it pained me to see him concede work all year to aging plodder Rashad Jennings. When the Giants allowed Jennings to leave via free agency this offseason, Perkins ADP climbed into the 8th and is still ascending. Not so fast. The Giants showed enough faith in the health of passing-down stud Shane Vereen to pay a $500,000 bonus earlier this month to keep him on the roster. Meaning, at best, Perkins will be losing valuable third down snaps to Vereen. At worst, New York using a top pick on a running back from this year’s deep class, as many have predicted, killing Perkin’s value. I still like Perkins, but would rather take Danny Woodhead or Delanie Walker in a similar spot until we get more clarity on his role.
Jan 23 - 2017 Top Ten By Position
by Matthew Hill
I suppose that this is where I should label these rankings as “way too early.” I should write about how these rankings should be taken not with a grain of salt, but with a whole heaping tablespoon. I should write about how much they will change in the coming months. I would do that if I believed that to be true. I don’t.
Yes, I know that creating partial 2017 fantasy football rankings for 2017 in January is an exercise that only the most degenerate amongst us could appreciate. However, there are some valid reasons for attempting to determine the 2017 fantasy pecking order long before Lady Gaga is set to take center stage.
- We have a full season of fantasy data fresh in our collective mind. In an effort to “be the first” to identify this season’s top breakout player, pundits will try their best this offseason to manipulate small sample sizes in order to convince owners that “so and so” is poised to put up monster numbers (I’m looking at you Cordarrelle Patterson). Yes, it is good to monitor the off-season trends, but don’t devalue those who have already produced.
- When it comes to evaluating production, seventeen weeks of data is better than one. Every year it seems that the fantasy community overvalues a player after falling in love with his postseason performance (Let someone else draft Chris Hogan five rounds too early).
- With draft-only leagues such as Dataforce’s Tin Babies (which start up in February…like MFL10s, but allow for one waiver wire transaction per-week. No longer do you have to worry about injuries derailing your best-ball leagues!) becoming increasing popular, owners looking for early drafts need to be prepared.
With that, here are your “kinda early” 2017 fantasy football rankings (subject to SOME change). Don’t agree with them? Feel free to let me know on Twitter @mrhill9169.
- Aaron Rodgers—Strong weapons, an offense built around him, touchdowns in bunches—what’s not to love?
- Andrew Luck—Luck finished as fantasy’s number five quarterback despite missing a game and playing behind one of the game’s worst offensive lines. Improve line play and a healthy Donte Moncrief would give him immense upside.
- Drew Brees—Anything less-than 5,000 yards would be considered a down year…let that sink in.
- Tom Brady—No one would argue if you took Brady ahead of Brees or Luck.
- Matt Ryan—Commanding a loaded offense and playing his home games in a dome, Matt Ryan is a safe bet for another top-five finish. Like Brady, no one would bat an eye if he were one of the top two quarterbacks off the board, especially after his postseason.
- Kirk Cousins—Cousins showed that his 2015 production was not a fluke. He will once again be asked to pass early and often.
- Matthew Stafford—Another high-volume passer, Detroit’s offense is built around Stafford.
- Ben Roethlisberger—Ideally paired with another solid quarterback, nobody puts up better numbers at home than Ben.
- Russell Wilson—Despite leading a run-first offense, Wilson’s running and developing weapons make Wilson a consistent producer.
- Dak Prescott—A team full of playmakers, including the league’s top line, combined with rushing ability give Prescott a high floor with strong weekly upside.
- Le’Veon Bell—His prominent role in the passing game, as well as the overall ability of the Pittsburgh offense, gives Bell the nod over Elliott and Johnson.
- Ezekiel Elliott—Playing behind the league’s best offensive line, the young, talented Elliott is a certain lock for double-digit scores and 1,000+ total yards.
- David Johnson—The potential decline of the Arizona offense is the only thing that keeps DJ from the top overall spot.
- LeSean McCoy—If he were to get all of the goal line carries, McCoy would be in the discussion for the number one pick.
- Devonta Freeman—Tevin Coleman remains a threat to eat into his carries, but the explosive, pass-catching back put up huge numbers again in the prolific Atlanta offense.
- Melvin Gordon—Much depends on if Danny Woodhead returns to steal targets and red zone carries. If Gordon remains the feature back, he has top four upside.
- Lamar Miller—Miller was a disappointment in 2016, after frequently being selected in the late 1st/early 2nd. Miller did prove to be the unquestioned bell cow of the Texans’ backfield. Improvement in Houston’s passing game would open things up tremendously and could mean a top-ten finish.
- Todd Gurley—Like Miller, Gurley disappointed owners in 2015, but did not lack for opportunity. If the Rams could find any semblance of a passing game, Gurley would be a strong RB1.
- DeMarco Murray—The late season fade and the presence of Derrick Henry is concerning, but Murray, with his role in the passing game and reliance in the red zone, is worth selecting at the 2/3 turn.
- Jordan Howard—2016’s top waiver wire add, Howard should open 2017 as a 3-down workhorse for Chicago.
- Antonio Brown—Durable, matchup proof, and just so much fun to own, I would still consider him with the number one pick over The Big Three running backs.
- Julio Jones—Julio scored and/or went over 100 yards in eight of twelve games before injuring himself in week thirteen.
- Odell Beckham—The high-profile meltdowns are annoying, but should do nothing to discount his talent and role in the New York offense.
- A. J. Green—Averaged nearly 21 points per-game (PPR) before his season ended early in week eleven.
- Mike Evans—Young, healthy, and the focal-point of the Tampa Bay passing game, one could make an argument ab out him being drafted as the second wide receiver off the board.
- Jordy Nelson—The top target of one of the fantasy’s best quarterbacks, Nelson was fantasy’s number one receiver from week eight on.
- Dez Bryant—After an injury-filled start, Dez scored in five of nine games from weeks 8-16. He remains one of the game’s premier red zone options.
- Doug Baldwin—PPR’s number six receiver continues to improve and become more involved in Seattle’s offense.
- TY Hilton—Quietly, TY Hilton led the league in receiving yards in 2015, finishing with 97 or more yards seven times from weeks 1-16. He also finished with 54 or less yards in six of his other games, making him a maddening player to own and a better option for best ball than traditional redraft.
- Michael Thomas—Thomas scored 9.6 or more points (PPR) in 13 of 15 games from weeks 1-16 (missed week 14).
- Rob Gronkowski—Mounting injuries will knock Gronk out of the first round. It will be interesting to see where the game’s top tight end (when healthy) goes in both early and late summer drafts.
- Travis Kelce—While he may be a little overdrafted thanks to his huge performance during fantasy championship week, Kelce finished 2016 as fantasy’s number one tight end and deserves to be one of the top three tight ends off the board.
- Greg Olsen—After finishing as 2015’s number two tight end, Olsen has had three straight top-three seasons.
- Jorden Reed—Injuries will always be a concern—just as elite production can always be expected when he is healthy.
- Delanie Walker—Walker enjoyed his third straight top-six fantasy season in 2016.
- Tyler Eifert—Like Reed, Eifert can’t seem to stay healthy. Also like Reed, he is an absolute beast when he is active.
- Jimmy Graham—Graham was surprisingly effective coming off of a torn patellar tendon. With another offseason to recover, Graham could flirt with top-three numbers.
- Zach Ertz—The former 35th overall pick was brilliant some weeks and disappeared in others. He is more valuable in best ball.
- Hunter Henry—Rookie tight ends are notoriously slow to produce, but Henry was able to find the end zone eight times while sharing snaps with Antonio Gates. Look for Henry to be featured even more in 2017.
- Kyle Rudolph—Everything went right for Rudolph in 2016, setting career highs in catches (83) and yards (840), while finding the end zone seven times.