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Top 6 Fantasy Football QBs and RBs I’m Planting My Flag With

Jake Ciely Senior Writer August 19, 2016 12:05PM EDT
Every year, Fantasy Football analysts and owners alike have their “planted flag” players. These are players we feel strongly about and rank higher than the consensus. These players are also the ones that can be the difference between being a contender and winning your league title. When I published my 2016 Fantasy Football rankings update last week, I immediately had questions about the players ranked significantly higher or lower than the norm… including C.J. Anderson of course. Instead of trying to answer all of the Twitter questions, often about the same players, it would be better and more valuable to break down the players I’m planting my flag with for 2016.

Quarterbacks

Philip Rivers, SD – “What have you done for me lately?”

Fantasy Football owners have short-term memories. Many overreact to one week of production, and many forget how good players are if they falter a few games or finish the season slow. Such is the case with Rivers. Prior to Keenan Allen‘s injury, Rivers was the second best quarterback, and that’s in points per game too for those that might think he had a one-game advantage over some quarterbacks.

Even with the drop-off in the second half, Rivers still had 293.5 Fantasy points, his second best career mark and the fifth time he’s topped 283, seventh with more than 272 and put his three-year average at 292.2. Back to those first eight games, Rivers had 171.2 points, good for 21.4 FPPG. Only Cam Newton, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson ended up topping that average.

Now, I’m not planting my flag with Rivers because I think he’ll top 21 FPPG – career best is 18.7 – but I do think he deserves to be the seventh quarterback off the board. Ben Roethlisberger averaged 19.4 and 19.0 the past two seasons, but he continues to be a major injury risk and doesn’t have Martavis Bryant (although, I’m a big fan of Ladarius Green in Pittsburgh). After Big Ben, Eli Manning and Tony Romo are great options, but Manning’s career best FPPG came last year at 18.8, and Romo’s was back in 2007 at 19.7 with nothing over 18.4 since.

Allen is healthy, and the Chargers brought in Travis Benjamin to line up on the other side of the field. Benjamin was already a great deep-play receiver… with the Browns! Rivers ranks in the Top 4 in completions of 20-plus yards since 2008 and also over the last five years (for a sample including the younger quarterbacks). Malcom Floyd finished his career inside the Top 50 all time in yards per catch. If you don’t think Rivers can maximize Benjamin’s potential and get back to his 2015 first half numbers, you might be a bit crazy.

Jameis Winston, TB – In my rookie breakdown of Winston, I talked about his great velocity and quality touch. Winston can squeeze the ball into tight windows and shows good anticipation with the ability to read linebackers well. I say all of that because it makes it even more surprising that Winston threw Mike Evans‘ way 17 times in the red zone but only connected for three touchdowns. The positive touchdown regression for Winston (being on the same page as Evans more this year) should have you excited.

13 December 2015: Cleveland Browns Running Back Duke Johnson (29) [20530] in action during a NFL game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium, in Cleveland, OH. (Photo By Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

Duke Johnson will breakout in 2016. Photo Credit: Robin Alam

In addition, Winston surprised many by throwing for 4,044 yards. On top of that, Winston threw for 22 touchdowns despite needing to improve the aforementioned chemistry with Evans. Another stat of note sees that a significant part of Winston’s value came from his six rushing touchdowns. While some might worry if that’s sustainable, Winston is similar to Cam Newton in that area, and you can expect a decent number of rushing touchdowns each year, as he too calls his own number near the goal line. Winston should improve across the board and see around the same success rushing the ball, which puts him in the QB1 conversation and Top 15 at worst.

Running Backs

C.J. Anderson, DEN – Are you surprised? This may be the worst kept secret in Fantasy Football. No, Anderson isn’t my RB1 this year… I just added a zero. He’s RB10. How can I do that after last year? Well, I don’t hold grudges… in Fantasy. Real life? That’s another thing.

I could just copy/paste from last season, but the fact remains, Anderson looked every part of a potential Top 5 running back late in the season, especially the playoffs. Everyone expects the Broncos to run more, but the quarterback situation shouldn’t be any worse in reality, and Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will keep defenses honest. Once 100 percent healthy and with the offensive line playing well, Anderson was one of the league’s most-effective rushers. In fact, from Week 8 through the end of the season, Anderson averaged 96.9 yards per game when seeing at least 10 touches (not even carries) with seven touchdowns and 115.5 points… or 14.4 FPPG. Let the hurt go and get back on board. Anderson will make up for our 2015 disappointments.

Giovani Bernard, CIN – If you read my 32 Bold Predictions in the Fantasy Football draft kit, you saw that I said Bernard would be the team’s best running back in standard, not just PPR. Bernard averaged 4.7 yards per carry and 2.4 after contact to Jeremy Hill‘s 3.6 and 2.0 marks – both which fell from 5.1/2.8 in 2014. Bernard also scored double-digit Fantasy points in six games despite only topping 15 carries once and having just two touchdowns. As with Winston and Evans, we already had a positive regression for touchdowns in place. With Bernard’s play last year, the Bengals will turn to him more often than Hill, reversing the roles with Bernard as the lead option. It’s not crazy to think of Bernard as Matt Forte used to be in Chicago with Hill being the frustrating touchdown vulture, making Bernard the better Fantasy option.

Duke Johnson, CLE – Referencing my 2015 rookie breakdown again, I ranked Johnson along with David Johnson as 2A and 2B behind Todd Gurley. Johnson has great vision and instincts, amazing start-and-stop ability with devastating juke moves and stiff arms. Johnson had some injury problems last year, but flashed his potential in a few games.

The real upside comes from the addition of Hue Jackson, who scouted Johnson before the draft, as did Kirby Wilson who is the running backs coach. That’s the same Wilson that coached Larry Centers and Keith Byers… you know, just two of the best pass-catching running backs of all time. Hue Jackson’s aggressive offensive will maximize Johnson’s abilities, giving him a Giovani Bernard floor. As good as Bernard is, Johnson is more complete and talented. Even with Isaiah Crowell in the mix, Johnson should be the lead option, as he posted a better success rate and DVOA (Football Outsiders) than Crowell. Crowell will get his share, but it’s the Browns and Hue Jackson, meaning there will be no shortage of touches to go around, and Johnson will see his value skyrocket in 2016.

C.J. Prosise, SEA – One name: David Johnson. That’s the comparison you hear many people make with Prosise, and it’s warranted. Prosise is also a quality pass-catcher and similarly sized. I’ve said Prosise is about 90 percent Johnson, as he’s a bit less talented, but we’re still talking about a running back that averaged 6.6 yards per carry last year at Notre Dame. Even attributing some of that to the impressive offensive line, that’s still a top-notch mark. Prosise has a good blend of power and speed with great balance and lateral moves to make defenders miss. Prosise’s main flaw is ball control, but he and the Seahawks have been working on that.

The real reason I believe in Prosise though is due to Thomas Rawls‘ injury. This week was the first time we’ve heard any positive news this offseason, but it solely from Rawls, as he said his recovery has been “phenomenal.” Excuse me if I’d like to see him on the field first. You just can’t feel overly confident when there is still talk that Rawls might not see the field until Week 1.

Let’s assume for a moment that Rawls is ready for Week 1 and 100 percent healthy. The Seahawks don’t need him to carry the ball 20-plus times a game with Prosise in the fold. Pete Carroll praised Prosise’s ability in OTAs, and even in shared time, he could have Giovani Bernard like value (2015 version). That puts Prosise in the RB2 conversation in PPR leagues and as a RB3 in standard. If Rawls isn’t 100 percent in 2016 or misses time again, Prosise would have Top 15 running back potential given the Seahawks offense, and that’s a high ceiling for a running back with an ADP in the RB50-60 range.

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