Four Burning Fantasy Football Questions: AFC East
My most hated division...the AFC East. The Patriots could be my most hated team. Ndamukong Suh left my Lions for the Dolphins, and that thug is now occupying South Beach. As for the Jets and the Bills? Well, Rex Ryan may be long gone, but his presence at those places still lingers on in my brain. I hate that dude soooo much. Anyways, even though I may not like the division, there are a few bright spots as well as fantasy questions that need to be answered. Is Jay Ajayi any good? Who's going to run the rock in New England? Who will be the number two wideout in Buffalo? Is anyone any good on the Jets? Find out here!
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Who will be the number two Wide Receiver in Buffalo?
I want to first say, that with the departure of Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin, I expect the Bills to run the ball a lot this year. Last season they were second in the NFL with 30.8 rushing attempts per game, and despite going through a coaching change, I don’t think that’s too far off from where they will finish in 2017. On the flip side, Buffalo was dead last in passing attempts per game, and one of only two teams (Miami) to attempt less than 30 passes per game. I have a feeling that whoever wins the number two wide receiver role in Buffalo, will be more of a “flier” type, rather than someone you can count on as a weekly, fantasy contributor due to volume. Here are the top candidates.
Zay Jones. At 6’2’ and 200 pounds, Zay Jones has nice size for an NFL wide receiver. Buffalo traded up to select him with the 37th overall pick in this years’ draft, so they definitely think highly of him. He isn’t the fastest runner, but he’s very athletic and turned in a 94th percentile performance in this years’ NFL Combine (per BuffaloBills.com). He might not have breakaway speed, but he makes up for that with physicality, good route running and great hands, as he only had six drops of the 164 catchable balls his senior year. If he can show that he can get separation from defensive backs, he could be a very nice receiver for the Bills.
Andre Holmes. This offseason, the Bills signed formed Raider wideout, Andre Holmes to a three year, $6.5 million deal. He has been stuck on the depth chart behind Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, so the opportunity for substantial targets hasn’t been there. He may get that opportunity in Buffalo as he competes primarily with the rookie for the number two role. He is currently running with the first team offense at OTAs and mini camp, so he is definitely someone to keep an eye on as the summer goes on.
Corey Brown. Corey Brown. Philly Brown. I don’t know what in the hell he wants to be called now, but I’m not a fan of his. He’s not big enough, or fast enough to be anything other than a number three or four receiver and shouldn’t be in fantasy consideration in 2017.
Overall, I would feel much better taking a flier on Zay Jones this season than I would on Andre Holmes. He is much more physically gifted than the other Bills receivers, and with he Bills trading up for him in the draft, I think they have big plans for him. He’s currently going as the WR65 on Fantasy Football Calculator, and I could make the case it wouldn’t be a reach for him to go ten places higher. He’s not a must-own by any means, but definitely someone you should put on a list of late-round targets.
Can Jay Ajayi build on his success in year one and be a reliable RB1?
The answer is yes. Boy, that was easy. Shortest writeup ever! Well, I guess I should give a reason or two why I think that Jay Ajayi can be a reliable, fantasy stud in year two. I suppose that would help…
2016 Production: 260 rush att, 1,272 yards (4.9 ypc), 8 touchdowns; 27 rec, 151 yards
First of all, Jay Ajayi has very little competition for touches with the likes of Kenyan Drake, Damien Williams and Storm Johnson as the other backs on the roster. Ajayi should be one of the few three-down backs in the NFL, so he should bring value in yards, receptions and touchdowns. Not only that, but head coach, Adam Gase has said that he wants to get Ajayi more involved in the passing game this season while offensive coordinator, Clyde Christiansen has stated that his receiving skills are, “200% better than they were last season”. I think we will see a substantial increase from Ajayi’s 27 receptions in 2016.
Ajayi was also very impressive as a pure runner. His 4.9 yards per carry was fifth in the league, but maybe even more importantly, he was first in the league in yards after contact per attempt, as well first in missed tackles forced per attempt (per Pro Football Focus). He can break a tackle and can force defenders to miss, and I love that in a running back. He also gets center, Mike Pouncey back this year, who only played in five games last season. In those five games that Pouncey played in, Ajayi averaged 6.0 yards per carry. There are a lot of arrows pointing up for Jay Ajayi. Here are my 2017 projections for the Dolphins running back.
2017 Projection: 290 rush att, 1,450 yards, 9 touchdowns; 40 rec, 275 yards
For fantasy drafts, I feel comfortable placing Jay Ajayi as a top six, fantasy running back in 2017. I think he has a high floor in regards to fantasy production, but yet possesses a high ceiling. Draft Ajayi with confidence in the first round of drafts this year.
How will the New England Patriots split up carries?
The Pats have revamped their skill positions this offseason as they added the likes of running backs, Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead, wide receiver, Brandin Cooks, as well as tight end, Dwayne Allen. Their offense could look dramatically different in 2017 and with LeGarrette Blount no longer there to steal all the touchdowns, it will be interesting to see what the Patriots rushing attack will look like in particular. Before we figure out what role each running back will have, let’s first take a look at who they have on their roster.
Mike Gillislee: 5’11, 219 pounds, in April signed a 2 yr/$6.4 million deal
James White: 5’10’, 205 pounds, in April signed a 4 yr/$12 million deal
Dion Lewis: 5’8’, 195 pounds, on last year of his deal
Rex Burkhead: 5’10’, 210 pounds, in March signed a 1 yr/$3.15 million deal
I want to start by saying that if you don’t know who Mike Gillislee is, you will very soon. He was the backup to LeSean McCoy in Buffalo and while he hasn’t gotten a ton of opportunity, he’s definitely made the most of his limited carries. The last two seasons, Gillislee has totaled 148 rushing attempts and averaged 5.7 yards per carry. He was able to have such a great yard per carry total for a few reasons. First, he was third in the NFL in yards after contact per attempt last year, so he can be a handful to bring down. Also, according to Pro Football Focus’ elusive rating, he finished 8th among running backs in 2016. Finally, Gillislee accrued over 40% of his yards on runs of 15 yards or more, which was third in the NFL. The dude has breakaway ability. With White and Lewis being smaller backs that have been used heavily in the passing game, I think it’s fair to say that Gillislee will be the favorite to lead the Pats in carries.
Former New England running back, LeGarrette Blount, was known for his ability to work his way into the end zone. Will Mike Gillislee be used in that same role? Well, last season Gillislee totaled eight rushing touchdowns on only 101 rushing attempts. He has the best size on the roster to become their goal line back, as well as the best skill set with his ability to get yards after contact. Gillislee is a serious candidate for double digit scores in 2017. If you haven’t been able to tell, I am kinda falling hard for Mike Gillislee.
So if Gillislee handles the bulk of the early down work, as well as goal line duties, who will the Pats use as their third down/passing back? I’m not sure we have to look much beyond the players’ contracts to figure that one out. The Patriots signed James White to a four year, $12 million deal this April, while Dion Lewis is currently riding out the last year on his contract. If they thought Dion Lewis was going to be the future, they could just as easily signed him to a new deal and let White walk. Not only that, but even after Lewis returned from injury in Week 11 last year, White caught 27 balls compared to 17 for Lewis. Lewis possesses more explosiveness, and will still have a smaller role in the offense, but I think we see James White lead the backs in receptions by a significant margin. Rex Burkhead may figure into the passing game a bit as well, but I think he is a back that was brought in which could be a decent backup for Gillislee, as well as White or Lewis if one of them should go down.
So here are my projections for the New England running backs.
Mike Gillislee: 265 att, 1200 yards; 10 rec, 70 yards; 11 total touchdowns
James White: 50 att, 220 yards; 55 rec, 520 yards; five total touchdowns
Dion Lewis: 30 att, 135 yards; 30 rec, 290 yards, two total touchdowns
Will any NY Jets Wide Receivers have fantasy value in 2017?
If a tree falls in the forest and there isn’t anyone around to hear it, does it make a sound? That’s how I feel when I tried coming up with a “burning” fantasy question for the Jets. They are going to be bad this year. Very bad. They have parted ways with veterans Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, and that leaves the likes of Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson and rookie, Ardarius Stewart as the likely, top three wideouts in New York. There are a lot of good delis in New York City…I wonder if any of them sell a good “blah sandwich” like the Jets are trying to sell their fans.
However, just because they likely won’t be a good team, doesn’t mean they won’t hold any fantasy value. The Jets will likely be playing from behind a lot this season, so they could be chucking the ball downfield a lot in garbage time. They also could be ineffective on first and second downs, causing them to be in passing situations frequently on third downs. See, it’s not all bad on the fantasy front in New York, right? Right??? That’s just me trying to find that positive spin on things. Puting my mayo on that blah sandwich. Wait a minute, that didn’t come out right…
Anyways, let’s take a peek at the Jets receivers.
Quincy Enunwa. Quincy Enunwa came out of nowhere last season to be a very effective, wide receiver for the Jets, as he totaled 58 receptions, for 857 yards with four touchdowns. He’s 6’2’, 225 pounds and has played a wide receiver/tight end hybrid role in the past. He’s a big body that won’t kill you with speed, but can be a nice, possession receiver. He had almost 100 targets in 2016 (99) and had more yards and touchdowns than Brandon Marshall, despite having one less reception. What I also like about him is that he averaged over six yards after contact last year and was also the Jets’ most effective wide receiver at breaking tackles, with 13.
While he has the skill set as a possession receiver, can he accomplish the same results as the team’s number one receiver that could be covered by the opponent’s top defensive back? He doesn’t have the speed to blow past defenders, but I think he will be able to use his size to win many of the battles against smaller defenders. I think he can improve upon last season and possibly hit 70 receptions for 900 yards with five scores, and that could put him into WR4 territory in PPR leagues this year.
One thing you really have to take into consideration is where to draft Quincy Enunwa. He is currently being drafted as the WR51 on Fantasy Football Calculator and WR56 on Fantasy Pros as of June 23. However, as you can see here, his ADP is starting to skyrocket with the departure of Decker, and we will have to see where it settles. My ideal, top-end spot where I would feel comfortable drafting Enunwa in 12-team leagues, would be roughly as my WR42 (mid WR4) and that would equate to roughly the beginning of the tenth round. While he doesn’t provide the upside of some of the receivers getting drafted around that spot, his floor is relatively high and he should be a safer option for fantasy production.
Robby Anderson. Robby Anderson was an unrestricted free agent rookie last season that went on to catch 42 balls for 587 yards with three touchdowns. He’s 6’3’, 190 pounds and can run a 4.3 40, and is an effective threat down the field. However, he has small hands (smells like cabbage) and still has limited experience as a wide receiver, as he started out in college as a defensive back and special teamer, before switching to wideout his senior season. He also has potential character issues as he reportedly got into a tussle with a police officer at a music festival in May. Overall, he will likely hold more value in standard leagues rather than PPR leagues, and is nothing more than a late round flier. Personally, I’m probably staying away from him this season.
Ardarius Stewart. The Jets selected the Alabama wide receiver, Ardarius Stewart, in the third round of this year’s NFL draft. He’s 5’11’, 204 pounds and has a nice combination of speed (4.49) and run after the catch ability. That’s the good. The bad is that he recently had surgery on his thumb and groin, and is in danger of missing time during training camp. That’s never good for a rookie. I think he is a year or two away from being fantasy relevant, and while I like him in dynasty leagues, he can be left alone on draft day in redraft leagues.