Teams in the NFL use similar concepts in their play-calling and offensive strategy from year to year if the coaching staff does not change. However, when a drastic change comes along, Fantasy Football players should take note.
Injuries, free agency and the NFL Draft also must be taken into account when researching for your draft. So, let’s step into the dark side, where the reality is that things have changed since the end of last season. Here are some key changes NFL teams have made that are notable for next season so that your opponent may rest in peace in your Championship game. (This Undertaker stuff doing anything for you?)
Do not let 2017 Amari Cooper Scare You
Okay, Cooper was pretty scary for Fantasy owners last season. From Weeks 3-5, the Raiders receiver scored 1.1, 1.9 and 1.3 points. These three weeks felt like an eternity for Fantasy teams rostering him, and many people were left to cut bait with the player they spent high draft capital on for the 2017 season. Cooper had the monstrous 210-yard, two-touchdown performance in Week 6 and was serviceable after that, as he scored four touchdowns in his final five games before going down with an ankle injury in Week 14.
Michael Crabtree is now in Baltimore and Jon Gruden is back coaching the Raiders. He has discussed the need to use Cooper all over the field next season. Even though Crabtree is gone, quarterback Derek Carr now has former Pro-Bowler Jordy Nelson and deep-threat Martavis Bryant as passing options. This will be a good thing for Fantasy production for Cooper, as all of the attention will not be on the 23-year-old. This will be Cooper’s fourth season, and there is once again a buzz to draft him in anticipation for that highly coveted breakout season. The price will not be as steep in 2018 and the addition of Bryant may actually hurt Cooper’s Fantasy stock, which would make him even more valuable if he slips in drafts.
This is the year to take a chance on Cooper in redraft leagues. His current ADP is 3.11 according to Fantasy Football Calculator, which is worth taking a chance on a guy with WR1 upside.
The Lions Are Going to Run the Ball
The 2017 Lions were dead last in rushing in 2017 with 1,221 yards. Jim Caldwell was fired and former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia was rewarded for many great years in New England with his first head-coaching gig in the NFL. Whenever defensive-minded coaches take over, there is always a desire to run the ball, as the two go together like a match made in Heaven. Matthew Stafford has now thrown for 4,000-plus years every year since 2011, and he has perhaps his best receiving corps to work with since he had Calvin Johnson.
The general perception of the Lions will be that they cannot run the ball and to stay away from the backfield altogether in redraft leagues. Fantasy players should take advantage of the people stuck in the past because 2018 will be different in terms of the offensive strategy. After Patricia got the job, one of the first things the Lions did was sign former Patriot LeGarrette Blount who had over 1,000 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2016 for Patricia and Patriots. In the draft, they selected Arkansas center Frank Ragnow, who was graded by Pro Football Focus as the best center in the 2018 class. The Lions then traded up in the second round to pick Kerryon Johnson of Auburn.
As of now, the Lions running back depth chart is murky as it also includes Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner, Tion Green and Dwayne Washington. As it shakes out, look for the Lions to move on from Abdullah who has not been the go-to guy that they were expecting him to be. Zenner and Washington may stay on the roster, but Riddick will still act as a satellite back while Blount will be the thumper on the inside and provide goal line duties. That leaves Johnson as the guy to own in the Lions backfield. The pieces are put in place on the offensive line, including Ragnow, 23-year-old Taylor Decker at left tackle and T.J Lang at right guard, who the Lions just signed to a 28.5-million-dollar contract last season.
While Riddick should be owned in all formats, his value increases in Points Per Reception leagues. All three backs are projected to be taken between Rounds 9-11, but the upside lies with Johnson. The Lions staff believed in him enough to sacrifice later picks in the draft and will be using him in his rookie season often. If given enough opportunity in 2018, he could easily return value at the draft price, as he has RB2 potential given his situation.
T.Y. Hilton is a WR1
Another boom or bust guy in 2017, Hilton had 605 of his 966 yards in four games. He finished as the WR24. Of course, Jacoby Brissett was the quarterback behind a terrible offensive line. The Colts addressed this issue in the draft by selecting guard’s Quenton Nelson with the sixth overall pick and Braden Smith at slot 36 in the second round. Signs are pointing to Andrew Luck to be a go for 2018, although he has still not thrown a football, reportedly. If Luck does play next season, Hilton is a WR1. He finished 2016 as the WR5 and led the NFL in receiving with 1,448 yards.
With his huge games in 2017, it is clear that Hilton is still a burner that can get behind the defense. His current ADP is 3.10 and is being selected as the 13th wide receiver off the board. He should be scooped up for that price, as the reality is that Hilton is a Top 10 wideout when Luck is playing.
The Patriots Will Heavily use Sony Michel
“Stay away from the Patriots running backs,” has been repeated like a mantra in the Fantasy community for most of the Bill Belichick era. So, it makes sense that this would still apply if you have been living under a rock for the last few years. In 2016, Blount had 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns and finished as the RB9 in PPR and the RB7 in standard leagues. Last season, Dion Lewis took over as the lead back rushing for 896 yards and catching 32 passes for 214 yards. His role in the offense was not expanded until midseason, as he was coming off of knee surgery to repair a torn ACL, but even with limited opportunity Lewis managed to finish as the RB15 in PPR according to Fantasypros.com.
While the Patriots using a first round selection on a running back perplexed many, this decision makes a lot of sense. The Patriots decided to let Lewis walk after a solid year, just as they did with Blount last season. This helped Lewis as he was able to sign with Tennessee for a healthy $19.8 million contract, but allowed the Patriots to take the discount and draft Georgia standout Sony Michel with the 31st overall selection. While Michel joins a loaded backfield, there is reason to feel good about the bruising back. Michel is like a combination of Lewis and Blount, as he is a smaller first and second down back with a bulky frame that allows him to barrel over defenders. In 2017m Michal ran for 1,227 yards with 16 touchdowns and racked off a whopping 7.9 Yards Per Carry. That’s a lot of YAC.
Michel is currently being taken at 6.12 on average according to Fantasy Football Calculator, while Rex Burkhead’s ADP is 6.01. The Patriots did ink Burkhead a three-year, $9.75 million contract, so he will certainly be a part of the Patriots running game. James White will provide third down duties as he has for the last few seasons in New England, but Michal should see over 150 carries in 2018 assuming he stays healthy. The Patriots know that running the ball is key to protecting Tom Brady, who will be 41 in August. Spending the first-round draft capital on Michel proves that the rookie will have a clear role in this Patriots backfield.
Main Image Credit: AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo