2018 fantasy football tight end rankings

2018 Fantasy football tight end rankings

I have had some colorful discussions with my colleague, Joe DiTullio, about writing this series. Debating the position of quarterback, running back and wide receiver for our composite rankings has been great. But now, we have to rack our brains to just name 30 tight ends with fantasy value, let alone rank them. So here is, essentially, my best educated rankings for our 2018 fantasy football tight end.

Tight End Rankings: 1-10

1. Rob Gronkowski – New England Patriots

This was a no-brainier. Rob Gronkowski plays in one of the most tight end-friendly positions in NFL history. Gronk is often put in a position where he has a drastic advantage over his defender, and his quarterback consistently trusts him to win that matchup.

The only discussion worth having about Gronk is when to draft him. In my experience, it is all about preference. From a total points perspective, Gronk is among a small group of tight ends who are better far and away in terms of production. So, you have to compare Gronk to players at other positions in his average draft position.

Personally, I would rather take the 10th or 11th best running back, than the No. 1 tight end. Don’t believe me? Take a look. In PPR scoring formats (which I hate) last season, 10 running backs scored more fantasy points than Rob Gronkowski.

2. Zach Ertz – Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia, while not as good as New England, is another offense that utilizes the tight end well. We saw that even when Zach Ertz was hurt. So with Ertz being incredibly talented on top of that, it is a recipe for a top-three player at the position.

What gives Ertz the nod over Travis Kelce is the consistency in which he is targeted in the red zone, and the fact that he has produced with both quarterbacks. Ertz had 29 total red zone targets, five more than Kelce. He also had 12 targets inside 10 yards, as opposed to Kelce’s four.

3. Travis Kelce – Kansas City Chiefs

I stated the first part of my case for Zach Ertz over Travis Kelce already. Red zone usage is critical to a tight end’s production and upside.

The other side of the argument for having Kelce third in my tight end rankings is his quarterback. Patrick Mahomes is talented, no doubt about it. However, you never know how quarterback preference and style will impact a player’s production.

Kelce will still be productive, as I can make the case that he is the best tight end in the NFL once he catches the ball. His leaping ability and change of direction is rare for a player his size. Kelce led all tight ends in yards after catch in 2017 with 441.

4. Evan Engram – New York Giants

Evan Engram is going to explode this season. Rookie seasons are not historically kind to tight ends. Engram was the exception to that rule. He turned his 64 catches into more than 700 yards and six touchdowns.

What is unclear is how he will be deployed under Pat Shurmur. In Minnesota, Kyle Rudolph was not an incredibly productive tight end. However, Engram is not the same type of tight end. He is not the run blocker Rudolph is, and Rudolph is not the receiver Engram is.

With players like Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley on the roster, Engram will almost never be the primary or secondary focus on a defense’s gameplan.

5. Greg Olsen – Carolina Panthers

Despite coming off an injury, Greg Olsen has proven to be a favorite target of Cam Newton. He has been productive every year since being in Carolina, and Norv Turner will likely add to his production.

When he has had talent at the tight end position, like Antonio Gates and Kyle Rudolph, he uses them. I do not think Olsen will be explosive, but that was never what made him successful. His large frame and route running will still make him a problem for safeties and linebackers.

6. Hunter Henry – Los Angeles Chargers

I was a year early to the “Hunter Henry is a top fantasy tight end” discussion. I am not proud of it, but we all make mistakes.

Everything sets up for Henry to have his best season as a pro. He finally assumes the starting tight end role and will benefit from all the formational matchups that Antonio Gates saw throughout his career. Even though Henry only saw 56 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, he was still targeted 23 times in the red zone, including 11 targets inside 10 yards. His production is going to skyrocket when he sees more than 65 percent of the offensive snaps in 2018.

7. Delanie Walker – Tennessee Titans

Delanie Walker was a favorite of mine in daily fantasy last season. While he struggled to find the endzone consistently, he was tied for third among tight ends in catches with 74, and fourth in yards with 807.

Even if Marcus Mariota does not take a large leap forward, expect his number of touchdowns to increase as a result of regression to the mean. He has averaged just over five touchdowns a year since starting for the Titans, and it is likely that he will reach that number again in 2018.

8. Kyle Rudolph – Minnesota Vikings

Last year may have seemed like a down year for Kyle Rudolph. He played great in 2016 and had career highs in catches and yards. Sadly, that season is an outlier if you look at Rudolph’s career. In 2017, Rudolph had 57 catches for 532 yards and eight touchdowns. For his career, he averages 46 catches, 450 yards and five touchdowns.

His numbers could experience an increase given the arrival of Kirk Cousins. However, I don’t see him getting enough targets to make him a top five fantasy tight end.

9. O.J. Howard – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I was screaming to anyone who would listen last season that Cameron Brate was the more valuable fantasy asset, and I was right. Even though Brate had a slightly lower snap rate, he had 22 more catches, 159 more yards and the same amount of touchdowns.

However, all of that is going to change in 2018. Howard is going to take over the starting role and will have more catches and yards than Brate.

The only problem is that Brate has tremendous chemistry with Jameis Winston in the red zone. Brate had 18 red zone targets, compared to Howard’s 12 in 2017.

10. Jimmy Graham – Green Bay Packers

While the move from Seattle to Green Bay looks great on paper, I have zero faith in Jimmy Graham as a top-eight tight end. Yes, he gets to play with Aaron Rodgers. Yes, he gets to play in an offense that will allow him more favorable matchups.

But, Green Bay does not feature the tight end in their offense. It is simply a matter of scheme. Since Mike McCarthy took over in 2006, the best fantasy season for a tight end was Jermichael Finley in 2011, where he had 55 catches for 767 yards and eight touchdowns. That production in 2017 (PPR Scoring) would have resulted in the seventh best tight end, beating out Jack Doyle by 1.6 points.

Tight End Rankings: 11-20

11. Trey Burton – Chicago Bears

After the top 10, you can essentially make the case for any of these players in any order. I personally like Trey Burton at the eleventh spot because Chicago needed to replace Zach Miller after his gruesome injury, and because the Bears did not pay him $22 million guaranteed to not produce.

I firmly believe that Burton could have a similar trajectory to Delanie Walker when he finally gets a chance to start. Burton is not the overall athlete Walker is, but he is a bigger target, and one that Mitch Trubisky will rely on.

12. Jordan Reed – Washington Redskins

If you are reading this, I am going to do you a favor. Under no circumstances should you draft Jordan Reed in the first nine rounds. He has shown everyone that he cannot stay healthy and that he cannot do something every great NFL player can do: play hurt.

If it is the 10th round or later, then sure, take Reed. If he starts playing well, I would flip him for anything because he is absolutely going to get hurt and take up space at the end of your bench.

13. Ben Watson – New Orleans Saints

Ben Watson is on a short list of players that I am bullish on heading into this season. In 2017, playing for one of the worst passing games in the league in Baltimore, Watson finished 11th in scoring among tight ends with 61 catches for 522 yards and four touchdowns.

Now he gets to play in one of the best offensive systems ever, with one of the best quarterbacks ever. Even at his advanced age, Watson will be productive because the Saints have lacked a player who could dominate the middle of the field since Jimmy Graham left. Coby Fleener and Josh Hill clearly are not the answer.

Watson will be the most dangerous in the red zone as defenses will have to focus on Michael Thomas, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.

14. Tyler Eifert – Cincinnati Bengals

I feel about Tyler Eifert the same way I feel about Jordan Reed. If you do not think he will get hurt again, look at his contract. The Bengals signed him to a one-year deal for $8 million, with $3 million guaranteed.

I would rather take a chance on a player like Tyler Kroft (depending on the size of your bench) to be your second tight end because he will eventually start. Eifert joins Reed on my personal list of undraftable players.

15. David Njoku – Cleveland Browns

David Njoku could be poised for a breakout season. I would love his prospects even more if Jarvis Landry was not on the roster. Landry does most of his damage out of the slot, and as a result, will create less space for Njoku to exploit mismatches in the middle of the field. It is also unpredictable how Cleveland’s quarterbacks will distribute to their targets.

16. Jack Doyle – Indianapolis Colts

Jack Doyle was a player I was passionate about heading into last season. Similar to my negative thoughts on O.J. Howard, I was incredibly excited about Jack Doyle. Rob Chudzinski had a track record of producing relevant fantasy tight ends. However, he is no longer in charge of calling plays.

All reports say Andrew Luck will be back for Week 1, but we saw Doyle produce last year without Luck. Hopefully his role in the offense will not take a significant step back in 2018.

17. Hayden Hurst – Baltimore Ravens

I have no idea what to expect from Hayden Hurst. Baltimore spent a first-round pick on Hurst. However, they also spent a third-round pick on Mark Andrews, the dynamic tight end from Oklahoma.

Joe Flacco has a history of targeting tight ends from Dennis Pitta to Ben Watson. But when you consider all of the new receiving threats they added this offseason, the distribution of targets will likely be unpredictable.

18. Charles Clay – Buffalo Bills

Charles Clay had a good season last year, but almost nothing is going to carry over. Clay is playing with a new quarterback, an inferior offensive line and will no longer benefit from the read option and play action Buffalo ran with Tyrod Taylor.

I am not touching Clay. Unless AJ McCarron or Josh Allen treat Clay like a No. 1 wide receiver, which we will not know until three or four games in, I am not interested in Clay.

19. Austin-Seferian Jenkins – Jacksonville Jaguars

Austin-Seferian Jenkins (ASJ) is a substantial upgrade over Mercedes Lewis at the tight end position. He proved that he can be a red zone weapon. The Jaguars do not throw the ball enough for ASJ to be productive between the 20s, but he will absolutely catch four or five touchdowns at a minimum in 2018.

20. Jared Cook – Oakland Raiders

After stints with the Titans, Rams and Packers, it appears that Jared Cook has found a home with the Raiders. Cook has always been an athletic mismatch, but he has failed to be productive for an entire season without fading.

He also has a documented problem with drops. It is unclear how Jon Gruden’s system will affect this entire offense, let alone Cook’s production.

Tight End Rankings: 21-30

21. Mike Gesicki – Miami Dolphins

Mike Gesicki is wildly talented as a pass catcher, but he is not capable of being a blocker at this point in his career. Gesicki will probably finish as a top-20, maybe even top-15 tight end, but don’t waste a valuable pick on him.

22. Eric Ebron – Indianapolis Colts

This player was the bane of my DFS existence last season, so much so I am not going to mention his name. He drops passes at seemingly the most pivotal moments. The Lions were so done with him that they did not even pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie deal. The only way he should be considered as a starter is if Jack Doyle gets hurt, and Andrew Luck has shown a propensity to target the tight end.

23. George Kittle – San Francisco 49ers

George Kittle is going to see a lot of snaps for San Francisco. However, the upside is not there. He is not overly fast, quick, big or strong. He is a solid player and one that should be considered if you need a replacement at tight end.

24. Dalton Shultz – Dallas Cowboys

Don’t believe the Rico Gathers hype. Dalton Shultz will be the starter for the Dallas Cowboys, and I will bet money on it. Shultz, unlike Gathers, is a true football player and is a massive player at the tight end position.

25. Dallas Goedert – Philadelphia Eagles

Dallas Goedert is the one player in this section of the rankings I would take a chance on. He will play in an offense that uses multiple tight end sets often, and we have a track record of the backup producing when the starter gets hurt.

26. Cameron Brate – Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

O.J. Howard will likely take over more of a starting role this season. If anything happens to Howard, Brate is a must-add off the waiver wire.

27. Austin Hooper – Atlanta Falcons

Austin Hooper is a starting tight end on a top offense in Atlanta. I do not think he will be anything special this season, but he would be a decent fill-in on bye weeks or if there is an injury.

28. Ricky-Seals Jones – Arizona Cardinals

He is essentially a wide receiver. Hopefully, they will feature him more in the offense, but it is unlikely since Larry Fitzgerald plays the slot and controls the middle of the field.

29. Tyler Kroft – Cincinnati Bengals

Tyler Kroft can potentially be a top-20 tight end if and when Tyler Eifert gets hurt. Until then, he is not worth a roster spot.

30. Gerald Everett – Los Angeles Rams

The Rams spent a second-round pick on Gerald Everett, so I expect them to incorporate him more in his second season. It is an incredibly crowded receiving core, so he will not produce unless there is a massive injury or offensive shift.

 

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wide receiver rankings

2018 fantasy football wide receiver rankings

When it comes to fantasy, wide receivers can be some of the most volatile players on a weekly basis. Even players at the top of the league can have games where they record less than 10 points. So if you’re going to spend a first-round pick on a wide receiver, they better consistently be seeing double-digit targets between the 20’s and one or two red zone targets per game. Let’s find out who fits that description in the first edition of my 2018 fantasy football wide receiver rankings.

Wide Receiver Rankings: 1-10

1. Antonio Brown – Pittsburgh Steelers

Antonio Brown is the only player to finish in the top three in targets since 2015. He’s an absolute monster. Brown has what we all want in a player, the workload of a running back and the upside of a wide receiver. The 2017 season was the first time Brown didn’t score double-digit touchdowns since 2014. There are some minor concerns about Brown heading into this season. Todd Haley is no longer the offensive coordinator, and Ben Roethlisberger is another year older, and more susceptible to injury. However, there is no disputing Brown is the unquestioned number one option at the wide receiver position.

2. DeAndre Hopkins – Houston Texans

By the end of 2018, DeAndre Hopkins might have something to say about my last statement. Apart from Brown, Hopkins is the only other player to finish top three in targets since 2015. All the while, he’s been doing it with sub par quarterback play, not a future hall-of-famer like Roethlisberger. We saw a taste of what Hopkins did last season with Deshaun Watson. During that stretch, he averaged 9.8 targets, 6.3 catches, 91.83 yards, and one touchdown per game. At that rate, Hopkins would have the best year of his career, and it may be enough to unseat Brown atop rankings like these.

3. Odell Beckahm Jr. – New York Giants

Despite the inconsistency of his quarterback, OBJ ranks inside the top five heading into 2018. Even though he’s coming off an injury, it occurred on a freak play and did not result in the tearing of any muscles. So, he will likely not suffer from the confidence issue that most player do when they are recovering (I also find the notion he’ll lack confidence to be laughable based on what we’ve seen). He’ll be playing with an improved running game and offensive line, which will alleviate some attention he receives from opposing defenses. But what makes OBJ so incredible, is his ability to seemingly score from any point on the field at any time.

4. Michael Thomas – New Orleans Saints

Although he plays in a run-first offense, Michael Thomas is the unquestioned number one target of Drew Brees. Thomas will likely see more single coverage this season as a result of the success of New Orleans’ running attack in 2017. So, even if he isn’t seeing the volume of other players on this list, the efficiency and quality of the targets he’ll receive will help bridge that gap. The only other perceivable knock on Thomas is his red zone usage, as the Saints like to pound Mark Ingram, or exploit a mismatch with Alvin Kamara.

5. Julio Jones – Atlanta Falcons

Julio Jones scares me. I have to rank him this high because of his talent, production, and quarterback. However, there are a few major red flags. One, he’s injury prone. Two, he’s wildly volatile, maybe even the most volatile fantasy player of all. He can have 10 catches for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns, or 3 catches for 36 yards and zero touchdowns. Three, his team inexplicably ignores him in the red zone and goal line. And four, he’s unhappy about his contract. It’s not being publicized, but Jones is currently the eighth highest paid receiver behind players like Jarvis Landry and Sammy Watkins. I don’t think this will cause Jones to hold out, but it’s been reported that he is not happy with the situation. I’d be cautious taking Jones in the first round if you’re in a 10 or 12 team league.

6. AJ Green – Cincinnati Bengals

2017 was not a good year for AJ Green. He had a career-high in single digit-fantasy performances with seven (according to standard and .5 point ppr scoring). Green also acted out of character this year with that outburst against Jalen Ramsey. Green appears to be in line for a bounce-back season. Cincinnati has made upgrades to their offensive line and should have a more productive running game. Both would allow Green more time to get downfield, as well as provide him with more single coverage situations.

7. Keenan Allen – Los Angeles Chargers

Keenan Allen, unlike AJ Green, had a career year in 2017. He played in all 16 games for the first time, and the results were great. Allen finished with top five in targets, catches, and yards. Hopefully he will increase his touchdown output in 2018. However, he still had more touchdowns than Michael Thomas and Mike Evans, who were consensus first and second round picks.

8. Davante Adams – Green Bay Packers

I want to put Davante Adams higher on this list; however, he’s had a bit of an injury history. Like Allen, he’s only had one season in which he played all 16 games. Since he’s not the physical specimen Allen is, he ranks just beneath him. Adams is in line to be Aaron Rodgers number one target, which is great. But, something tells me Green Bay will make an effort protect Rodgers by running the ball, as they did with success during his absence. Adams could very easily jump players like Allen, Green, and Jones if he sees a true number one’s volume.

9. Mike Evans – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Conversely, I’d like to rank Mike Evans lower on this year’s wide receiver rankings. I had 100 percent exposure to him last year in fantasy leagues and was not pleased with this output. But, I learned from my mistake so it wasn’t a total loss. What keeps Evans from being higher is his inability to make plays after the catch. Evans averaged 1.6 yards after the catch. At his height, he would average more yards after catch if he simply fell forward every time he caught the ball. This severely limits Evans’ upside, and hampers his effectiveness between the 20’s.

10. Tyreek Hill – Kansas City Chiefs

Tyreek Hill impressed many last year by being more than a speedster and developing into a wide receiver. Kansas City was able to deploy him all over the field and become less predictable as an offense when he’s out wide or in the slot. Hill has the upside of a Jones, Beckham, and Brown, but has since built up his output floor. While Patrick Mahomes may seem like an upgrade, his accuracy and effectiveness at the NFL level is still unpredictable. Given this fact, I don’t think I’d take Hill until the third round.wide

Wide Receiver Rankings: 11-20

11. Alshon Jefferey – Philadelphia Eagles

What makes Alshon Jefferey a surprisingly valuable asset, was his effectiveness with both Nick Foles and Carson Wentz. So, we won’t have to worry if Wentz isn’t available week one. The Eagles deployed Jefferey in the redzone as well as deep down the field. While he’s not the most consistent game-to-game, he plays in a great prolific offense with two capable quarterbacks.

12. Larry Fitzgerald – Arizona Cardinals

Larry Fitzgerald somehow figured out a way to finish top five in targets, second in catches, and top 10 in yards. He managed to do this with multiple quarterbacks throwing him the ball, and, without the threat of David Johnson to take attention away from him. Fitzgerald will be a player I’m targeting this season, especially if I have a volatile or injury prone wide receiver as my number one.

13. Brandin Cooks – Los Angeles Rams

Brandin Cooks might be the luckiest receiver in NFL history. He’s played for Sean Payton, Josh McDaniels, and now, he gets to play for Sean McVay. Cooks is incredibly talented. Other than Randy Moss and Larry Fitzgerald, no player had more catches, yards, and touchdowns through their age 23 season. Cooks looks to add to his historically great start in Los Angeles. I’m of the belief that this whole offense will take a step back. Also, Cooks’ volume will likely be unpredictable until the fourth or fifth game of the season.

14. T.Y. Hilton – Indianapolis Colts

Disclaimer, T.Y. Hilton’s place on these wide receiver rankings are assuming Andrew Luck is the week one starter. We all saw how incredibly explosive Hilton could be in the right matchup. However, we also know that Hilton can disappear in any given game. Hopefully, Luck’s return will raise his floor and make him a value on draft day. Like my theory with Fitzgerald, I would shy away from Hilton if I have a volatile number one like Jones or Hill.

15. Adam Thielen – Minnesota Vikings

If last year didn’t establish Adam Thielen, at a minimum, top 20 receiver, then I don’t know what will.  Thielen finished top 10 in catches and top five in yards in an offense led by Case Keenum. He’s not a bad player by any means, but Kirk Cousins is objectively superior. With the return of Dalvin Cook, and Mike Zimmer’s overall disdain for throwing more than necessary, it’s likely he won’t see the same volume. However, Thielen proved he can score from anywhere on the field and run a complete route tree.

16. Doug Baldwin – Seattle Seahawks

This is a pivotal season for Doug Baldwin. Despite Russell Wilson leading the NFL in touchdown passes, Baldwin was only able to snag eight of them. He also had his lowest output in terms of catches since 2015, and yards in 2014. It’s likely he will have a regression to the mean in those categories, but, will it be worth the draft pick you used to acquire him?

17. Amari Cooper – Oakland Raiders

Everyone remembers that Thursday night game against the Chiefs in which Amari Coper went unconscious with 11 catches for 220 yards and two touchdowns. Sadly, that game made up about 30 percent of his production for the entire season. There’s honestly no telling what his production will be with Jordy Nelson and Jon Gruden’s new offensive scheme. Unless Cooper I can get Cooper as my third receiver, I’ll likely take a pass on him.

18. Demaryius Thomas – Denver Broncos

I haven’t decided how I feel about Demaryius Thomas and this Denver offense yet. Case Keenum will no question be the best quarterback to lead this team since Peyton Manning. Hopefully reports from training camp won’t inflate Thomas’ value before draft season. Thomas is a player who has big-play upside, it’s just a matter if Keenum’s line will hold up and allow him to connect on the deep and intermediate routes.

19. Pierre Garcon – San Francisco 49ers

Pierre Garcon should be a target of everyone who drafts a boom or bust player in their first two rounds. Garcon is slated as the number one receiver in this offense. Marquise Goodwin could cut into his volume, but he’s a deep threat and not as polished as a possession receiver. Not to mention, Goodwin suffered a brutal concussion at the end of last season. Garcon could have one of his best years since leaving Indianapolis, even with his advanced age.

20. Golden Tate – Detroit Lions

Tate is another example of an underappreciated fantasy asset. Since coming to Detroit, he’s never had less than 90 catches, 800 yards, and four touchdowns. What truly makes Tate valuable, is his run after catch ability. Last season he finished fourth in yards after catch with 6.9. It’s unclear whether or not new head coach Matt Patricia will alter the offensive philosophy from featuring Matt Stafford as a high volume passer. However, Tate’s track record shows us that he will maximize every opportunity given to him.

Wide Receiver Rankings: 21-30

21. Josh Gordon – Cleveland Browns

Josh Gordon’s position in these wide receiver rankings has nothing to do with football. It’s great that he’s back in the NFL, but in no way should he be viewed as a top 15 player at his position. Last season, when everyone in the DFS community was pounding the table on Josh Gordon against the Packers as a “must play”. He didn’t completely disappoint, as he scored 14.4 points. But, I paid $1,000 less for his teammate Corey Coleman, who scored 14.7 points that day. The moral of the not so humble brag is that you cannot depend on Josh Gordon. If he proves he can put an entire season of productivity together, he’ll rise up the ranks quickly.

22. Julian Edelman – New England Patriots

Julian Edelman will start week one. He suffered his injury during the preseason last year, so he’ll be more than prepared to dominate out of the slot. My hope is that Edelman slides on draft day because of his injury and his perceived lack of production. Last season wasn’t the first time he missed multiple games due to injury, so there is a risk that he could get hurt again. Not to mention, the Patriots love getting fantasy players’ hopes up just to crush them. I’ll certainly have Edelman on my list of players to be targeting.

23. Jarvis Landry – Miami Dolphins

Jarvis Landry was a target monster in Miami. Whether that trend continues, remains to be seen. If Baker Mayfield was set to start week one, I’d have Landry higher on the list. Mayfield is substantially more accurate than Taylor, and attacks the middle of the field well. As soon as he becomes the starter, Landry’s value will increase.

24. Robbie Anderson – New York Jets

If Robbie Anderson can go the rest of the summer and not threaten to sexually assault a police offer’s wife, I’ll be happy (if you want to laugh I encourage you to look up his exact wording). Anderson emerged as the number one receiver with Josh McCown at the helm. Hopefully, that will continue when Sam Darnold inevitably gets the start. Anderson’s combination of height, speed, and run after the catch ability make him dangerous, even if he’s playing on a below average team with average quarterback play.

25. Marvin Jones – Detroit Lions

I feel like I’m saying this about a lot of players in this range, but I want to target Marvin Jones. As the second, or co-number one option on the Lions, Jones had more than 60 catches, 1,000 yards, and accumulated nine touchdowns. This, in large part, is a bi-product of Stafford and the high volume of pass attempts. However, Jones sees most of the team’s red and green zone targets. Stafford loves throwing fades to Jones and assuming Stafford’s volume stays the same, Jones will be a good value.

26. Allen Robinson – Chicago Bears

I have no idea what to do with Allen Robinson. He’s the unquestioned number one in Chicago, but, believe it or not, he’s downgraded from Blake Bortles. Mitchell Trubisky, to this point, doesn’t give me the confidence that Robinson will see the volume or the production of a number one receiver.

27. JuJu Smith-Schuster – Pittsburgh Steelers

JuJu is a good player, but he’ll likely be over-drafted relative to other players at his position because of the team he plays for. Volume is so important for wide receivers. So why should we consider JuJu as a top 20 option if he has to compete with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell for touches? His talent is undeniable, but his involvement in the offense will be unpredictable with the new offensive coordinator.

28. Devin Funchess – Carolina Panthers

I’m retroactively regretting ranking Funchess this low. Even though he finished with less than 70 catches and 1,000 yards, he caught eight touchdowns and had to compete with Kelvin Benjamin for almost half of the season. Despite Greg Olsen coming back and the addition of DJ Moore in the draft, Funchess could be in line for his first 1,000 yard season.

29. Randall Cobb – Green Bay Packers

Cobb, for the first time in two seasons, is the projected number two for the Packers. The organization clearly values what he can do and featured him in the offense even when Nelson and Adams were on the roster. Cobb’s injury history keeps him from being higher in these rankings.

30. Will Fuller – Houston Texans

Wrapping up the top 30 is Will Fuller. Fuller isn’t particularly special. In my opinion, he’s a less skilled version of T.Y. Hilton. But, he plays in an offense with a quarterback that isn’t afraid to target him deep, and across from one of the NFL’s best receivers.

 

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running back rankings

2018 fantasy football running back rankings

As I joked about in my quarterback rankings, these will likely be irrelevant in a matter of weeks. Thankfully, the news about Mark Ingram and his four-game suspension was released this week. It will no doubt impact his draft stock and the usage of every player on the Saints’ offense through the first four games. So, let’s get right into running back rankings for 2018.

Running Back Rankings: 1-10

1. Ezekiel Elliott –  Dallas Cowboys

No offense is going to rely more on their running back than the Dallas Cowboys. The losses of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten means that the rest of their skill positions are unproven commodities and to this point, Dak Prescott isn’t capable of elevating those players. Ezekiel Elliott, as a result, is going to play a much larger role in the passing game. While he’s not as fluid a receiver as some other elite backs, the added touches will give Elliott the weekly upside of players like Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell. Not to mention, he’ll enter the season with fresh legs and a monster chip on his shoulder. An angry Ezekiel Elliott has me excited about his fantasy prospects in 2018.

2. Todd Gurley –  Los Angeles Rams 

I’m on record saying this entire offense is going to take a step back. Now, I think Todd Gurley’s production will be the least impacted by the regression. His volume in this offense is too great to keep him out of the top three spots. His involvement in the passing game, particularly in the screen game, would likely make him the number one overall pick in most PPR leagues. However, Sean McVay’s system will not take any coordinator by surprise and one injury to this offensive line would severely limit his production.

3. Le’Veon Bell – Pittsburgh Steelers

Le’Veon Bell is scaring the hell out of me at the number three spot. He once again will not be reporting to camp and won’t be working with the team until the first week of regular season practice. It took two games before we saw the kind of production we’re used to from Bell, then he exploded against Baltimore. Apart from sitting out training camp, Bell has a history of missing games for injury and suspension, and always seems to be feuding with management. Despite all of those potential negatives, he’s too talented and in too great of a system to be lower than the number three spot.

4. Leonard Fournette – Jacksonville Jaguars

Leonard Fournette is in a similar role to Ezekiel Elliot. Fournette is the going to be the focus of a run-first offense and will be receive a tremendous amount of volume. However, there are a few negatives Elliott does not have. Fournette’s role in the passing game is not as substantial, his offensive line is not as good and he missed multiple games in his rookie season. What separates Fournette from a the other players in the top ten is his consistent volume, and his team’s unquestioned commitment to the running the ball.

5. Kareem Hunt – Kansas City Chiefs

As a Kareem Hunt fan, it was absolutely egregious that he was not named the offensive rookie of the year in 2017. Alvin Kamara was great, but he didn’t lead the NFL, or even his own team in rushing yards. Rant aside, Kareem Hunt is in a great position entering 2018. The only person who can stand in his way is Andy Reid. As a season-long owner of Kareem Hunt last year, Reid would randomly not give the ball to Hunt for more multiple games in a row. Now that Patrick Mahomes is the starter, one can surmise that Hunt will receive a larger volume of touches as a result. Also, starting running backs in Andy Reid’s system are always viable fantasy options.

6. Saquon Barkley – New York Giants

Saquon Barkley will likely be over drafted come August. He’s a great player in a good situation. He’s the unquestioned starter and playing with an upgraded offensive line, an elite perimeter player and a capable quarterback. The only problem is that his popularity and camp reports will inflate his value to the point where he is going over players like Hunt and Fournette, which I struggle to agree with. If you want Barkley, you might have to take him with a top-five pick by mid-August.

7. Alvin Kamara – New Orleans Saints

Given my Kareem Hunt analysis, you might think I don’t like him. That could not be farther from the truth. I drafted him in all my redraft leagues when he was slated as the third running back on the depth chart. The only problem I have with Kamara is that he doesn’t appear to be a running back capable of handling 20 carries and 3-5 catches a game, on top of his kick return duties. What made him so great was Sean Payton’s ability to match him up with linebackers in coverage, and give him carries in unconventional running situations. Even with Mark Ingram’s four-game suspension, his volume will not that of an Elliott, Gurley or Bell. The Saints will more than likely ask Drew Brees and company to shoulder more of the load during their stretch without Ingram.

8. David Johnson – Arizona Cardinals

David Jonson’s slide to the eighth spot is the result of a few things. He’s playing in a new offensive system. During Mike McCoy’s tenure as a head coach or offensive coordinator, his offenses on average ranked 14th in attempts. When Melvin Gordon was his starting running back, his team ranked 22nd in rushing attempts both seasons. Gordon and Johnson are similar in terms of volume and involvement in the passing game, with the overall edge going to Johnson. However, the quarterback play will likely be sub-par because Sam Bradford will get injured and McCoy’s playbooks are notoriously difficult to absorb. Johnson will be a productive fantasy running back, but he should not be viewed as the same number one overall pick he was touted as last season.

9. Devonta Freeman – Atlanta Falcons

Devonta Freeman’s production, like everyone on the Atlanta Falcons in 2017, dipped. I do think he and the offense as a whole will improve with another year under Steve Sarkisian. But, there were some concerns towards the end of last season. Seemingly out of nowhere, Freeman got the football equivalent of the yipps and could not score on the goal line. In fairness, he was dealing with an injury late in the season, but it will be telling if the Falcons decide to use Tevin Coleman out of shotgun in short yardage, as opposed to pounding the ball inside with Freeman.

10. Melvin Gordon – Los Angeles Chargers

It seems like the Chargers are the most underrated team in terms of fantasy production when you consider that consistent producers like Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen are all on same offense. Every year Gordon is a good starter and is a heavy volume player. The only thing keeping Gordon from being higher on this list is that he doesn’t produce explosive plays like Kamara or Hunt.

Running Back Rankings: 11-20

11. Dalvin Cook – Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings are shaping up to be a dangerous team. They are incredibly well-balanced on offense which bodes well for Dalvin Cook, especially since he’s coming off an injury. Kirk Cousins and his perimeter weapons will help open up running lanes for Cook. Even if the upgrade at the quarterback position takes away from Cook’s volume, he no longer has to compete with Jerick McKinnon for third down touches. Don’t expect Cook’s overall production, or in draft stock.

12. Jerick McKinnon – San Francisco 49ers

I am so excited about the prospects of Jerrick McKinnon in San Francisco. For those who doubt McKinnon’s role as a full-time starter, show me the last running back who was paid $36 million and didn’t see the majority of the touches in the backfield. This is going to sound crazy, but Jerrick McKinnon is Alvin Kamara in terms of ability. McKinnon actually is faster, more explosive, just as capable as a receiver, and only smaller by one inch and four pounds. While I don’t think he can handle a full workload, I absolutely think his production is going to skyrocket with an increased role in San Francisco.

13. Derrick Henry – Tennessee Titans

Now that Derrick Henry is finally rid of Demarco Murray, he is going to see a Leonard Fournette type of volume. Henry’s knock is that he lacks explosiveness and benefited from splitting time with Murray, which is accurate but may not apply moving forward. It will be interesting to see in the first four weeks whether or not he can keep his yards per carry up while seeing the increased volume.

14. Jordan Howard – Chicago Bears

Last year Jordan Howard disappointed fantasy owners, especially those who took him in the second round. Howard was no longer sneaking up on defenses and was actually the primary focus given the team’s rookie quarterback. Thankfully, the Tarik Cohen fad faded as the season progressed, but Benny Cunningham is a classic third-down back who will still take away touches in the passing game from Howard in 2018.

15. Joe Mixon – Cincinnati Bengals

Joe Mixon could explode in productivity this year. The Bengals upgraded their left tackle position and spent a first-round pick on interior defensive linemen, Billy Price. Mixon asserted himself as the best player in this backfield and will see the majority of the touches from week one. Giovani Bernard is still there, so he will likely assume the third-down role. However, Mixon is absolutely the starter and could end up being a value on draft day.

16. Carlos Hyde – Cleveland Browns

Much of my Jerick McKinnon excitement can be applied to Carlos Hyde in Cleveland. Hyde is a complete back and no longer has to convince Kyle Shanahan to give him the ball over Matt Breida. Hyde should be drafted as a fourth-round pick though because of the presence of Duke Johnson and Nick Chubb. Johnson will be the primary third down back, and Nick Chubb could threaten Hyde’s share of the carries.

17. LeSean McCoy – Buffalo Bills

This could be the final season for LeSean McCoy in terms of fantasy relevance. While he’s still dynamic, there are too many new variables that can hamper his success. McCoy has to deal with a new starting quarterback, new starting left tackle and a new starting guard. He will no longer get the benefit of the Tyrod Taylor and running the read option. We also have to keep in mind that McCoy will be 30 years old this July.

18. Royce Freeman – Denver Broncos

Royce Freeman is going to be the week one starter if the Broncos don’t sign a veteran player at the position. The Broncos are so confident in Freeman’s ability that they did not retain C.J. Anderson. Devontae Booker, Jamaal Charless and De’Angelo Henderson were all on the roster last year and none of them could assert themselves as the dominant back. It also doesn’t hurt that Pro Football Focus has Freeman slated as the starter. I will be aggressively targeting Freeman in redrafts and rookie drafts.

19. Christian McCaffrey – Carolina Panthers

Christian McCaffrey was higher in my rankings until the C.J. Anderson acquisition. I believe McCaffrey will be the starter and dominate all the touches between the 20’s. However, Anderson could turn into a goal-line vulture, especially knowing that the Panthers like to bring on big personnel in short yardage for Cam Newton or the former, Jonathan Stewart. I can still see them using McCaffrey in red zone passing situations to exploit matchups, but it’s possible the Anderson steals multiple touchdowns from McCaffrey this season.

20. Mark Ingram – New Orleans Saints

Mark Ingram is going to be, or I hope will be, a great value on draft day. Picking Ingram is going to come down to which round I can draft him in. If you told me right now that I could get Ingram in the fifth round, I would jump at that opportunity. If I only get 75 percent of his production last season, since he’s missing the first four games, that means I would be getting 173 carries, 843 yards, and 9 touchdowns. I’ll take that all day in the fifth round.

Running Back Rankings: 21-30

21. Derrius Guice – Washington Redskins

I’m not too high on Derrius Guice. He will certainly have every opportunity to start, but, this team had no interest in running the ball last season. They ranked 24th in rushing attempts in 2017. Also, Chris Thompson will return as the unquestioned third down and pass catching back.

22. Lamar Miller – Houston Texans

Lamar Miller is another player I’ll be aggressively targeting. Every year no one wants Lamar Miller, and every year he finishes top 15 in points (average finish of 11.25 in points the last four seasons). He’s going to play in a potentially dynamic offense based on what we saw last season. And, he’s going to be the beneficiary of seven men boxes because of their explosive perimeter players.

23. Alex Collins – Baltimore Ravens

While the Ravens are trying to transform their wide receivers and potentially their quarterback, they are committed to running the ball. The Ravens upgraded their offensive line, and, did not draft a running back in this year’s draft. Alex Collins should be a starter in all leagues and will likely be picked in the fourth or fifth round.

24. Marlon Mack – Indianapolis Colts

The entire team hinges on Andrew Luck, including Marlon Mack. Mack will likely be the starter week one, but will not have the upside of a starter in fantasy if Luck is not under center.

25. Kenyan Drake – Miami Dolphins

Kenyan Drake came on strong for the Dolphins last season. He showed the ability to be an all-around running back. However, the Dolphins have shipped a lot of their talent elsewhere, and aside from Josh Sitton, their interior linemen are sub par.

26. Jay Ajayi – Philadelphia Eagles

I love Jay Ajayi and he’s in a system, but the Eagles just signed Matt Jones this week and brought back Darren Sproles. How in the hell is he going to get enough touches to be productive? Just do yourself a favor and shy away from anyone on the Eagles.

27. Rex Burkhead – New England Patriots

I approach the Patriots the same way I approach the Eagles, just don’t (unless there’s an injury). Rex Burkhead will likely get the goal line carries and be used to exploit some receiving mismatches, but at a much smaller rate than James White.

28. Ronald Jones – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Ronald Jones will probably be the starter. Just as a result of that, he will accumulate production worthy of being drafted. I’m not sure what his upside will be behind that offensive line and in a system that wants to primarily throw the ball to a multitude of targets.

29. Marshawn Lynch – Oakland Raiders

Marshawn Lynch is projected to start week one. But, I wouldn’t be surprised if he retires before the start of the season. It’s very possible that he and Jon Gruden will clash, and as a result, he hands up his cleats again. It’s also a crowded backfield with Doug Martin, Jalen Richard, and DeAndre Washington.

30. Sony Michel – New England Patriots

My best guess is that Sony Michel will assume the Dion Lewis role for the Patriots. He’s substantially more talented than Lewis, but he cannot overcome the Patriots’ system. Unless there’s an injury, don’t count on Michel for production.

 

Featured Image Courtesy of SI.com

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quarterback rankings

2018 fantasy football quarterback rankings

The NFL Draft has come and gone, and rookie mini-camps are starting up all over the league. Meaning, it’s time to start churning out superfluous rankings that will likely be useless a month from now. My esteemed colleague, Joe DiTullio, released his rankings yesterday. He has convinced me to come to the dark side (away from talking DFS) and create my 2018 fantasy football quarterback rankings.

Quarterback Rankings: 1-10

1. Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers

Despite missing most of the 2017 season, Rodgers is still the undisputed number one fantasy option at the quarterback position heading into 2018. Green Bay has added talent this offseason to support Rodgers via the draft and free agency. It’s also likely that Aaron Jones or Jamaal Williams will start at running back, giving them a more traditional rusher in the backfield than Ty Montgomery. But the real reason Rodgers tops this year’s quarterback rankings is that the Packers will get to play a third-place schedule against the AFC East. That means three elite performances at a minimum against the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins.

2. Russell Wilson – Seattle Seahawks

Russell Wilson is quickly convincing me that he is the NFL’s version of LeBron James. He never gets hurt despite his usage, he makes everyone better, and he must play well for his team to have a chance to win. Wilson, amazingly, accounted for over 90% of his team’s touchdowns in 2018. While the selection of Rashaad Penny in the first round has been debated, he will be the most dynamic presence since Marshawn Lynch. Now, whether or not the offensive line will Penny or Wilson remains to be seen. However, I’m done doubting Russell Wilson as a top quarterback, especially in fantasy football.

3. Tom Brady – New England Patriots

Tom Brady has been a staple at the top of fantasy quarterback rankings for years now, and 2018 will be no different. Given the departure of left tackle Nate Solder, running back Dion Lewis, and wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola, the Patriots will rely on Brady and this quick passing game to start the season. As new players like Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel get comfortable, they will likely start to transition to a more balanced attack. Until then, they will ask Brady to get the ball out quickly, so expect a higher volume of attempts in the early portion of the season.

4. Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints

In case you weren’t sure, Drew Brees reminded everyone in the NFC divisional game against the Vikings that he can still take over a game from the pocket. While the Saints have transitioned to a run-first offense, it will allow Brees to be even more efficient. The Saints also acquired Ben Watson in free agency. Meaning, that they have a legitimate threat at the tight end position since Jimmy Graham. Expect them to incorporate and target Watson in the red zone, as defenses will key heavily on Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara.

5. Cam Newton – Carolina Panthers

While he’s not the model of consistency, fantasy players everywhere know how dangerous Newton can be on any given Sunday. He’ll be playing in a different offensive system this season, which would usually be a downgrade. However, Norv Turner has an excellent offensive pedigree and will figure out the best ways to support Newton. Given this change, Newton may be susceptible to a slow start, but will likely progress positively in the new system as the season goes on.

6. Matt Ryan – Atlanta Falcons

Last year was not kind to Matt Ryan. He saw decreases across the board compared to his MVP season. It’s likely he’ll produce a happy medium between his 2016 and 2017 campaigns. Another year in Sarkisian’s system, along with new weapon Calvin Ridley, Ryan could be a great value on draft day. Not to mention, that $30 million contract will loom over this organization if he does not get off to a fast start. Look for this offense as a whole to get back on track in 2018.

7. Deshaun Watson – Houston Texans

This is where the rankings got tricky. There are three incredibly talented quarterbacks returning from injury in 2018. Of the group of Deshaun Watson, Andrew Luck, and Carson Wentz, Watson got the nod at seven. If you could guarantee me that he would start for 16 games, I would have zero problems ranking him in the top three. Watson proved to everyone that he has elite upside on a weekly basis, and, his legs provide him with a stable floor. With weapons like DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, Watson won’t hesitate to throw the ball deep, something all fantasy owners love.

8. Andrew Luck – Indianapolis Colts

So the tiebreaker between Andrew Luck and Carson Wentz came down to recency. Wentz tore both his ACL and MCL in December of last year, and with Nick Foles on the roster, the Eagles won’t rush him back. Also, we have to remember how great Andrew Luck was during his last full season. In 2014, Luck threw for over 4,700 yards and 40 touchdowns, including three rushing touchdowns. In just 12 games in 2016, he threw for over 4,200 yards and 31 touchdowns. If you extrapolate those numbers, that translates to 41 touchdowns and over 5,300 yards. Given his new offensive coach and upgraded offensive line, I won’t hesitate to pull the trigger on Luck if the price is right.

9. Carson Wentz – Philadelphia Eagles

All signs are pointing to Carson Wentz being available for week one. However, we can’t be so sure. This team proved to be capable with Nick Foles at the helm. So, the Eagles won’t look to mortgage their future franchise quarterback if he suffers any setbacks in the preseason. Injury aside, Wentz is in a great position. The Eagles are bringing all of their skill players back, and even upgraded Torrey Smith for Mike Wallace. They also added Dallas Goddard to replace Trey Burton in their two tight end sets. As we get more updates on his progress, Wentz could easily move up the quarterback rankings.

10. Jimmy Garropolo – San Francisco 49ers

“Jimmy Jesus” sneaks into the top ten for a few reasons. One, they will have to keep pace with Jared Goff and Russell Wilson twice a year. Two, Kyle Shanahan’s system is what propelled Matt Ryan to have an MVP season in 2016. And three, Garropolo produced at a high-level last year despite limited time to acclimate to the system and the mediocre offensive personnel. If you want Garropolo on your roster, you’ll likely have to reach for him, as last seasons hype train will no doubt skew his average draft position.

Quarterback Rankings: 11-20

11. Kirk Cousins – Minnesota Vikings

Kirk Cousins finally gets the long-term deal he was looking for, but it came with a new team. It’s not often that a quarterback with Cousins’ numbers becomes a true free agent. As a result, it’s hard to say how much this new system will impact his fantasy production. However, what’s clear is that he will be playing with a unit that is superior at every offensive position except for left tackle and right guard. Cousins played with a group that was depleted across the board last year in Washington and still managed to produce. Expect his overall volume to decrease, but, don’t expect his overall production to drop by much.

12. Jared Goff – Los Angeles Rams

Sean McVay took the NFL by storm. His scheme has rescued the career of Jared Goff and reestablished Todd Gurley as an elite running back. Smartly, the Rams were aggressive this offseason and acquired talent on both sides of the ball, including the dynamic Brandin Cooks. They also looked to reinforce some potential problem areas on their offensive line in the draft. However, this league will have had an entire year to catch up to McVay, and, the Rams will play a first place schedule. Taking Goff wouldn’t be a bad decision, just be sure to temper your expectations.

13. Matthew Stafford – Detroit Lions

What makes Matthew Stafford an attractive option is that he’s a high volume passer. Since 2011, Stafford has finished in the top 10 in pass attempts, including five top-five finishes. But, that volume could decrease with a new head coach, Matt Patricia. Defensive head coaches tend to be less-risky on offense. However, he may have a different philosophy on that matter coming from New England. Stafford always seems to be a value on draft day, so selecting him at the right time should position your team nicely.

14. Ben Roethlisberger – Pittsburgh Steelers

On a personal level, I’m done with Ben Roethlisberger. His insecurity about the drafting of third-round pick Mason Rudolph is laughable. From a fantasy perspective, he still has value. The Steelers will be one of, if not, the most prolific offense in the NFL in 2018. Players like Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Le’Veon Bell will provide Roethlisberger with a multitude of explosive options. Sadly, the home/road splits for Roethlisberger are more than just a narrative, and there’s always the possibility he misses a handful of games due to injury.

15. Marcus Mariota – Tennessee Titans

Last year was such a disappointment for the former Oregon quarterback. In fairness, he dealt with a hamstring injury that immobilized him for most of the season. Unfortunately, that did not mean he improved as a pocket passer. I’m willing to give Mariota the benefit of the doubt, given his injury and another year to develop chemistry with Corey Davis.

16. Derek Carr – Oakland Raiders

The Raiders are committed to the development of Derek Carr. Jon Gruden’s offensive prowess should help this offense; however, his offenses had the quarterback under center for the majority of their snaps. Hopefully, he’ll adjust his scheme to fit Carr’s strengths, but forcing him to take more snaps under center could affect his timing with Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, and the newly acquired Martavis Bryant.

17. Philip Rivers – Los Angeles Chargers

Philip Rivers is continually one of the most undervalued players in all of fantasy football. He’s a high volume passer with good weapons like Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry, and Melvin Gordon. Rivers finished last season second in pass attempts with 575 and tied for fifth in touchdowns with 28. With the upgrades on the offensive line and a fierce pass rush on defense, Rivers and company are prime for a run at the division title and another productive fantasy season.

18. Jameis Winston – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Like Mariota, Winston had a disappointing season due to injuries. Also, his team had to deal with the effects of hurricane Harvey to start the year, as well as the entire team being collectively ill against the Vikings. Not all hope is lost though. Upon his return, Winston was one of the better quarterbacks in December and appeared to have put the injury behind him. Hopefully, Winston can rebound in 2018 and reestablish himself as a viable fantasy player.

19. Eli Manning – New York Giants

The ranking of Eli Manning this high is the result of his supporting cast. Nate Solder and Will Hernandez provide some much needed help on the offensive line. Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram round out a dynamic receiving core. And, the addition of Saquon Barkley elevates this entire offense’s production. Except for one other player, Manning’s supporting cast is superior to every quarterback the rest of the way.

20. Dak Prescott – Dallas Cowboys

Dak Prescott will be better this year than he was in 2017. Ezekiel Elliott is slated to start for all 16 games, but, this offense will be without its two most targeted pass catchers, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. Prescott’s legs provide him with a solid floor, but his perimeter talent will severely limit his upside.

Quarterback Rankings: 21-30

21. Andy Dalton – Cincinnati Bengals

Andy Dalton could rise through the quarterback rankings as we get closer to week one. He has an elite player in AJ Green, another year with Joe Mixon, and an upgraded offensive line. Dalton is always a reliable streaming option but could become a starter if his offensive line and running game improve.

22. Case Keenum – Denver Broncos

Case Keenum’s arrival to Denver has more impact on his supporting cast than his production. He’s going to take a step back regarding production, but he is undoubtedly an upgrade over Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, and Brock Osweiler. Keenum should not be drafted as a starter in one quarterback leagues.

23. Alex Smith – Washington Redskins

Just like how Cam Newton’s MVP season was an outlier, so was Alex Smith’s production last year. For the first time in his career, he threw the ball down the field. It’s possible that mindset will transfer to Washington; however, he’s playing with a significantly worse group of skill players. It’s likely that this is Smith’s last stint as an NFL starter.

24. Blake Bortles – Jacksonville Jaguars

Blake Bortles, despite his sporadic moments of offensive production, is in a run-first system. The only way Bortles can become a back-end starting fantasy quarterback is if Jacksonville allows him to run the ball like he did during the playoffs. Even then, there may be better streaming options available.

25. Tyrod Taylor – Cleveland Browns

Like I said with Deshaun Watson, if I knew Tyrod Taylor was going to start the whole season, I’d have him much higher on the list. His rushing ability gives him a high floor and could have some high scoring games should he be able to connect with Josh Gordon deep.

26. Patrick Mahomes – Kansas City Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes is super talented and is in a quarterback-friendly system. He’s surrounded by great players like Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill. However, I’m taking the wait and see approach with Mahomes.

27. Mitchell Trubisky – Chicago Bears

While he wasn’t a failure in Chicago, there isn’t enough offensive talent to warrant drafting Mitchell Trubisky. Maybe that’s different in 2019, but until then, he’s nothing more than a backup for fantasy purposes.

28. Joe Flacco – Baltimore Ravens

Joe Flacco is coming off one of the worst seasons in NFL history in terms of yards per attempt for a starting quarterback. It will be interesting to see how the Ravens handle him and Lamar Jackson but don’t expect Flacco to return to this Superbowl form.

29. Ryan Tannehill – Miami Dolphins

Ryan Tannehill should start week one after recovering from a season-ending injury last preseason. Tannehill wasn’t great to begin with, and Miami has shipped out almost all of its talent to rebuild team culture. The Dolphins could very well be one of the worst teams in the NFL.

30. AJ McCarron – Buffalo Bills

And finally, AJ McCarron will get his opportunity. Whether or not he keeps the starting job, the whole season is up for debate. But one thing we can all agree on is that you are in trouble if you are turning to McCarron as your starter.

 

Photo Courtesy of SI.com

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NBA 2k League Power Rankings

Post Tournament NBA 2k League Power Rankings

The NBA 2k League kicked off season one with a five day, 17-team round-robin tournament for a $100,000 prize pool. We saw blowouts, shootouts, great defense and great individual performances from top players. But above all, we saw two great teams meet in the championship game. 76ers Gaming beat Blazer5 Gaming by a score of 75 to 66. These organization had the 14th and 6th picks respectively of the first round and built incredible teams from top to bottom. So without further adieu, let’s examine where each team stacks up in my NBA 2k League power rankings.

Ranking System

These NBA 2k power rankings are based on three specific points of analysis: point differential per game, tournament standings, and eye test. It only fair that these teams are judged by their performances this weekend. It becomes too murky and unpredictable to introduce “projected success” into these rankings.

Nba 2k league Power Rankings: 17-10

17) Grizz Gaming –  Point Differential/Game:(-20), Tournament Rank:17th, Record:(0-4)

This was pretty straightforward. The Grizz struggled in all facets of the game. They suffered a 24 point loss at the hands of Pacers Gaming and a staggering 41 point loss to Mavs Gaming.

16) Magic Gaming – Point Differential/Game:(-11.33), Tournament Rank: 16th, Record:(0-3)

The Magic, if they had to play teams like Grizz Gaming did, would likely have a similar point differential. They were also the only other team who did not win a game during the tournament.

15) Heat Check Gaming – Point Differential/Game:(-12), Tournament Rank: 15th, Record:(1-3)

Heat Check Gaming was one of the more disappointing performances during the tournament. I do think this team is in a position to get better quickly with their two-man game of Hotshot and MaJes7ic, as well as the leadership from their coach.

14) Wizards Gaming District – Point Differential/Game:(-4.67), Tournament Rank: 14th, Record:(1-2)

The problem right now is that they aren’t getting reasonable production from the Small Forward position. Through three games, ReeseDaGod23 is averaging 5 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists per game. It’s also worth mentioning that in the Wizards’ only win, they were 15/31 in three pointers and only won by five points.

13) Knicks Gaming – Point Differential/Game:(-1.67), Tournament Rank: 13th, Record:(1-2)

Their point differential per game indicates that they were competitive in every game, which they were. This is a balanced team in terms of scoring, but, they have to shoot the ball better from behind the arc. In their three games, they shot on average 27% from three and that needs to improve moving forward.

12) Bucks Gaming – Point Differential/Game:(-1), Tournament Rank: 12th, Record:(1-2)

The Bucks were being compared to the Pacers for much of the week in terms of play style. For the most part, that’s accurate. However, there is a stark difference at the Small Forward position. STL, the Small Forward for the Bucks, in two games (the box score for his third game is unavailable) averaged 4 points, 2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.

11) Kings Guard – Point Differential/Game:(-0.67), Tournament Rank: 11th, Record:(1-2)

This team won’t be outside the top 10 for long. They are simply too talented. With more time to develop, they will turn those close losses into wins.

10) Jazz Gaming – Point Differential/Game:(+0.25), Tournament Rank: 8th, Record:(2-2)

This is the first real shake up and it’s all about talent. There are two teams who didn’t make the final group ranked ahead of Utah because they, in my opinion, are more talented.

NBa 2k LEague Power Rankings: 9-5

9) Raptors Uprising – Point Differential/Game:(0.0), Tournament Rank: 10th, Record:(1-2)

While the Raptors’ point differential isn’t as good as the Jazz, it’s marginal. They had to face both championship teams in their first group. Their two-man game of Kenny and Yusuf is going to get better and Yusuf was one of the only Centers to get the best of OneWildWalnut in this tournament.

8) Warriors Gaming – Point Differential/Game:(+1.25), Tournament Rank: 7th, Record:(2-2)

The Warriors have a clear identity, which is great. Vert was one of the best players in group play averaging 27 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists. This production came to a halt when he matched up against Ramo in the quarterfinals. If this team wants to compete they absolutely have to get better production from their back court.

7) Cltx Gaming – Point Differential/Game:(+7.25), Tournament Rank: 9th, Record:(3-1)

You could consider this to be shakeup number two. Even though the Celtics missed the final cut, they have the fourth best point differential thus far, despite blowing a big lead to the Mavs in group play. This team is going to be a contender, and thus, is ranked higher than two teams who made the final cut.

6) Pistons GT – Point Differential/Game:(-5.40), Tournament Rank: 3rd, Record:(3-2)

The Pistons are a team that should not rest on their laurels. They are the only team to make the final cut with a negative point differential and had the fourth worst point differential of all the teams. Ramo is great, but this team needs to score more points, as they only eclipsed the 60 point mark once, and score just 48 points in their semi-final game versus the 76ers.

5) Pacers Gaming – Point Differential/Game:(+3.8), Tournament Rank: 6th, Record:(3-2)

The Pacers were one of the more intriguing teams entering the tournament. They were also the talking point of a minor controversy surrounding the “stiff arm” animation used by Wolf to get to the basket. Not to mention, how they would incorporate Vgooner from UK into the offense. This team has an identity and will continue to get better throughout the season.

nba 2k league Power Rankings: 4-1

4) Mavs Gaming – Point Differential/Game:(+8.40), Tournament Rank: 5th, Record:(3-2)

Mavs Gaming is in a good position, despite their blowout loss to the 76ers. Dimez did not disappoint. It was important from a branding perspective that he perform like the number one pick, and he certainly did. However, this tournament taught us that one great player does not make you a great team. Mavs Gaming will no doubt improve and will likely develop into a great, not good, team.

3) Cavs Legion GC – Point Differential/Game:(+4.40), Tournament Rank: 4th, Record:(3-2)

Any conversation about Cavs Legion has to start with Hood. Hood asserted himself as a dominant player and the most prolific scorer at the Small Forward position in the league. This is a team that can win shootouts, but had some issues with the Bucks in group play. Hood was “held” to a modest 23 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. Overall, this is a dangerous team that showed they can score with anyone.

2) Blazer5 Gaming – Point Differential/Game:(+8.16), Tournament Rank: 2nd, Record:(5-1)

It’s a shame the Blazers couldn’t finish the tournament at 6-0 and the undisputed best team in the league entering the regular season. We have to start with OneWildWalnut. He was the emotional leader of this team and a force during the tournament. His play, combined with Mamma Im Dat Man and Dat Boy Shotz, allowed them to dismantle the Pacers by 20 in the quarterfinals. This team is incredibly versatile and should be a favorite moving forward.

1) 76ers GC – Point Differential/Game:(+7.67), Tournament Rank: 1st, Record:(5-1)

The 76ers deserved to win the tournament led by the magnificent play of their point guard, Radiant. Steez was also a critical reason why they did not lose a game since their first round match up with the Blazers in group play. But the shock of the tournament was 6th round pick ZDS’ performance in the championship game. His 19 points was just too much for the Blazers to overcome.

 

Photo Courtesy of Sportskeeda.com

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Philadelphia Eagles 2018 Draft profile

The 2018 NFL Draft is less than one week away, which means that Draftmas is back. Draftmas will take a look at each NFL team heading into this year’s draft, what their needs are and who they could be targeting. Draftmas continues today with the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles NFL Draft profile.

Summary

Fly Eagles fly! After winning the first Superbowl in franchise history, the Philadelphia Eagles are in great shape heading into 2018. The biggest question mark for this team will be the health of Carson Wentz. Not only will he be ready for opening day, but also, will he be able to duplicate his electric play that allowed the Eagles to finish as a top ten offense? Wentz was the driving force of an offense that finished in the top 10 in yards and points.

2018 Philadelphia Eagles

Photo Courtesy of; NJ.com

What made this unit so unique, was its incredible balance and unpredictability. Meaning, defenses would never know which running back or wide receiver the offense would run through. That forced opposing defenses to defend every inch and player on the field.

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles were equally formidable. This unit was led by the incredible talent and depth on their defensive line. Fletcher Cox was the headliner among a star-studded unit including Brandon Graham, Tim Jernigan, Chris Long, and Derek Barnett.

If that wasn’t an embarrassment of riches, the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles added Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata. This has the potential to be an all-time defensive line the likes of the “fearsome foursome” and the “purple people eaters”.

While this team looks great on paper, it’s not without its flaws. The hallmark of last year’s Eagles was depth and should be the mantra once again if they hope to make another run at a championship.

Picks and Needs

The 2018 Philadelphia Eagles have six picks in the upcoming NFL draft. With very few holes on this team, the Eagles have the luxury of adding depth or taking the best player regardless of position.

First round (1): 32

Second round (0):

Third round (0): 

Fourth round (2): 126, 128

Fifth round (1): 160

Sixth round (1): 192

Seventh round (1): 224

Offensive Needs:

Tight End: As stated earlier, the Eagles have the luxury of taking a developmental prospect or a high upside pick. Since the Eagles liked to use multiple tight ends in 2017, they could consider drafting a replacement for Trey Burton if they don’t believe in Brent Celek or the newly acquired Richard Rodgers. If nothing else, they could have a legitimate insurance policy for Zach Ertz.

Tackle: Incredible depth at the tackle position last season was a tremendous contributing factor the success of Nick Foles and the running game. Jason Peters is slated to return; however, it’s almost impossible to know if he’ll be able to fully recover. Drafting another tackle would give the Eagles a viable option if Peters doesn’t return to form and would serve as a swing player behind Lane Johnson and Halapoulvaati Vaitai.

Defensive Needs:

Cornerback: Currently, Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills are slated to start at corner. However, if they decide to play Mills in the slot against three wide receiver sets, that would leave Rasul Douglas as a starter on the outside. It’s possible that Daryl Worley assumes that role, but, the Eagles could stand to benefit by adding a talented rookie to the mix.

Targets

First Round

Pick No. 32: Brian O’Neal, Tackle, Pittsburgh

2018 Philadelphia Eagles

Photo Courtesy of; YouTube.com

The Eagles continue to strengthen a strength with this potential selection. Ensuring that Carson Wentz feels comfortable in the pocket upon his return is paramount. All it takes is one preseason setback to a recovering Jason Peters, or another suspension to Lane Johnson to make this an area of need.

Like Jason Peters and Lane Johnson before him, offensive tackle was not O’Neal’s initial collegiate position. He was recruited as a wide receiver and then converted to tight end. That means, just like his predecessors, he possesses incredible athletic ability.

However, athletic ability isn’t everything. His performance at the combine demonstrated that he is not as strong as other prospects at his position. O’Neal would benefit greatly if he had a full season in an NFL strength and conditioning program. Overall, the Eagles would be securing one of the most important positions on the roster and would lock in a top athlete on a rookie contract.

Conclusion

The 2018 Philadelphia Eagles are poised to make another run at a championship. If they can add one impact player in the draft, as well as secure depth across their roster, they may join one an elite group of teams who have won back-to-back championships.

 

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New Orleans Saints 2018 NFL Draft profile

The 2018 NFL Draft is less than two weeks away, which means that Draftmas is back. Draftmas will take a look at each NFL team heading into this year’s draft, what their needs are and who they could be targeting. Draftmas continues today with the 2018 New Orleans Saints NFL Draft profile.

Summary

The New Orleans Saints rebounded in a big way in 2017. After finishing 7-9 the year before, the Saints were one miracle play away from the NFC Championship game. What made this year’s Saints particularly exciting was the way their offense evolved from the traditional Sean Payton approach.

New Orleans Saints 2018 NFL Draft profile

(Photo from defpen.com)

Payton is known for his incredible creativity and willingness to throw in any situation. However, that changed in 2017. The Saints recalibrated their offense to, literally, run through Mark Ingram and rookie standout, Alvin Kamara. The Saints finished 13th in rushing attempts and fifth in rushing yards. These were their highest rushing rankings since they won the Super Bowl in 2009.

Conversely, Drew Brees and company were equally productive and efficient. This offense was 19th in pass attempts, but fifth in yards. Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr. and Kamara were incredibly explosive and consistent for the offense.

The offense was not the only unit to evolve and improve in 2017. The Saints’ defense finished 10th in points allowed and 17th in yards allowed. Finally, Brees and the offense were supported by an above average defense. Standouts among this unit were defensive end, Cameron Jordan, and rookie stars in the secondary, Marcus Williams and Marshon Lattimore.

Picks and Needs

The New Orleans Saints have eight picks in this year’s 2018 NFL draft. As a Super Bowl favorite, this draft will be about securing as much depth as possible.

First round (1): 27 

Second round (0):

Third round (1): 91

Fourth round (1): 127

Fifth round (2): 147, 164

Sixth round (2): 189, 201

Seventh round (1): 245

Offensive needs:

Offensive guard – Andrus Peat has been mediocre in his first three years and missed time due to injury in 2017. The Saints should try to upgrade or secure depth at this position so that one injury does not compromise their ability control the line of scrimmage.

Tight end – There is not a tight end on the roster who can threaten defenses vertically on a consistent basis. Ben Watson is a good fit because of his veteran experience, but lacks the explosiveness to be a true threat. If the Saints could find a young receiving tight end in this draft, it would add yet another dimension to the 2018 New Orleans Saints offense.

Defensive needs:

Linebacker – As the roster is currently constructed, A.J. Klein is slated to start at the Sam linebacker position. His play has fallen off a cliff since 2015 and is one of the few liabilities on this defense. Hopefully the Saints can find a replacement for Klein in the later rounds of the draft.

Strong safety: Kenny Vaccaro’s injury and sharp decline in 2017 is concerning. It is very possible he heals and bounces back in 2018. However, the Saints should try to add depth at this position given Vaccaro’s health.

Targets

These are some prospects that the 2018 New Orleans Saints can realistically target in the draft given their current draft position.

First round:

Pick No. 27: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA

New Orleans Saints 2018 NFL Draft profile

(Photo from Big Blue View)

This pick does not address an immediate need. It would be great if the Saints could take Isaiah Wynn, the multi-positional lineman from Georgia, but it is unlikely he falls this far.

However, Miller would solidify some great depth at the tackle position. He is incredibly athletic and has experience playing both tackle positions in college.

Miller’s selection here is an insurance policy. The Saints absolutely have championship aspirations and would hate to have those hopes derailed by an injury to either tackle. As the Philadelphia Eagles showed, depth at key positions, like tackle, can keep playoff and championship hopes alive.

Third round:

Pick No. 91: Darius Leonard, OLB, South Carolina

Leonard has received rave reviews from NFL scouts. His tackling, coverage and block-shedding skills are impressive. The only thing holding Leonard back from a higher selection is his size and athletic ability. The Saints would add an impact player who would have a chance to start at the third linebacker position, and at worst, is a versatile contributor at multiple positions and special teams.

Conclusion

The 2018 New Orleans Saints are in a great position. However, they need to execute a strong draft in order to stay ahead of the pack in the incredibly competitive NFC South.

Make sure to tune in tomorrow for the Pittsburgh Steelers 2018 NFL Draft profile.

 

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Dez Bryant release

A lesson in leverage courtesy of Stephen Jones

Everyone is weighing in on the Dez Byrant release. This might come as a shock to the casual fan. Unfortunately, the name Dez Bryant is bigger than his production and paycheck warranted. For those who were paying attention, this decision was an inevitability.

Stephen Jones created a blueprint that every general manager should follow and it can be summed up in one word, leverage. Don’t believe the idea that they just cut ties with Dez without any offer to renegotiate. The Cowboys wanted him back at a reduced rate given the leverage they created with yesterday’s meeting.

Elements of Great Leverage

There are a few factors that create strong leverage for or against a party when negotiating. Those factors include: performance (past and future), price and timing. For the most part, these are the key elements of every negotiation and combine to create leverage for one side or the other. So, let’s review how each of these factors played a role in the Dez Bryant release.

Performance

Dez Bryant release

Photo Courtesy of; USA Today

For those who didn’t know, Dez Bryant has not been good the past three seasons. You can read the details Dez’s lack of production by our own Kenneth Hesse here, so I’ll give you the cliff notes. Dez Bryant has missed four or more games twice in the last four seasons. He also failed to reach 1,000 yards receiving the last three seasons and has not scored more than eight touchdowns since 2014.

Given that information, it seems like Dez would be poised for a rebound as Dak Prescott continues to get better, right? Well, let’s consider his age. Bryant is 29 years old, the same age as Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and AJ Green.

Those other receivers have been producing at a consistent level and have remained relatively healthy. These players have also proved that they have tremendous skill to complement their physical abilities.

It was announced earlier this off-season that Dez was going to “work on his route running” with a personal coach. That would be great, if he were 24 and still possessed elite physical talent. It’s ironic that Dez only offered to further work on his craft when his job was in question. So, given his previous production, health and skill set, Dez does not project well into the future as his physical skills decline further.

Price

This was probably the biggest factor in the Dez Bryant release. Bryant signed a 5-year, $70 Million contract in 2015. He would have counted against the salary cap for $16,500,000 this year and next. Clearly, he does not warrant that kind of payment. His cap, among other wide receivers, was the third highest in the NFL. Dez Bryant, in no statistical category, is a top three, five, or ten wide receiver. To summarize, the Dez Bryant release was the result of a depreciating asset that was no longer worth the cost of keeping.

Timing

The first two elements are obvious. However, this is the key factor that made the Dez Bryant release great and gave the Cowboys all the leverage in this negotiation. As stated earlier, the Cowboys didn’t want to cut Dez Bryant outright. They wanted to bring him back at a reduced rate and here’s why.

First, what incentive did the Cowboys have to hold onto Dez this long? They could have allocated the extra $8.5 Million they saved by cutting him, to another player in free agency. Here are some players that signed contracts this off-season who could have helped the Cowboys and count for $8.5 Million or less against the salary cap: Sheldon Richardson, Michael Crabtree, TJ Carrie, and Tyrann Mathieu. If they truly did not think Dez would be part of their 2018 plans, they would never have waited until this late in free agency to do so.

Second, Jerry Jones has been loyal to a fault with his star players, especially Dez Bryant. Jones does everything in his power to take care of his stars. He desperately wanted to keep Dez. If he didn’t, he would have released Dez at the start of free agency so that he could have the best opportunity possible to sign with another team.

And finally, Stephen Jones wanted to create as small of a market as possible for Dez if they were to release him, which is exactly what happened. The majority of NFL teams have finished their major free agent acquisitions and have turned their attention to the draft. Meaning, teams don’t have the cap space or potential roster space to sign a player like Dez, even if they wanted to. This scenario pressured Dez into taking a pay cut, and thus, gave Stephen Jones and the Cowboys all the leverage in this situation.

Moving forward

In short, this was a good decision. The Dez Bryant release sends two signals, one to Dak Prescott and one to Ezekiel Elliott. This move tells Prescott that he no longer has to deal with Dez and his constant chirping for the ball. It wasn’t Prescott’s fault that Dez only caught 52 percent of his targets. And, it tells Ezekiel Elliott that this offense will unequivocally run through him. Cowboys fans should notice a more relaxed and confident Dak Prescott in 2018.

 

Featured Image courtesy of USA Today

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Los Angeles Rams 2018 NFL Draft profile

The 2018 NFL Draft is just two weeks away, which means that Draftmas is back. Draftmas will take a look at each NFL team heading into this year’s draft, what their needs are and who they could be targeting. Draftmas continues today with the 2018 Los Angeles Rams NFL Draft profile.

Summary

The Rams were one of the best stories of the 2017 NFL season. They finished 11-5 and champions of the NFC West. Sean McVay entered the season under heavy scrutiny, as he was the youngest head coach in modern NFL history.

Los Angeles Rams 2018 NFL Draft profile

(Photo from Clutch Points)

However, he resurrected this franchise offensively. The Rams finished first in points and 10th in yards. Whether it was Jared Goff and company through the air or Todd Gurley on the ground, McVay’s creativity took the league by storm.

Defensively, the Rams transitioned from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense under longtime coordinator Wade Phillips. Phillips has an undeniable ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks, and that is exactly what he did. While this unit finished 12th in points and 19th in yards, they were top five in sacks and turnovers.

Given the transactions made by the 2018 Los Angeles Rams, it is clear they are in “win now” mode. The additions of Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Ndamukong Suh and Brandin Cooks have solidified the Rams as winners of this offseason heading into the draft. That title does not always translate to postseason success, but the Rams have addressed a lot of their potential needs and are poised to make a deep run in this year’s playoffs.

Picks and Needs

The Los Angeles Rams’ success in 2018 will be predicated on their free agent moves. With only one pick in the first three rounds, it is unlikely they will find multiple impact players to help them in 2018.

Overall, the Rams have eight picks in this year’s draft, with four of those picks being in sixth round.

First round (0 picks):  

Second round (0):

Third round (1): 87

Fourth round (1): 111, 135, 136

Fifth round (0): 

Sixth round (5): 176, 183, 194, 195

Seventh round (0):

Offensive needs:

Offensive guard – This unit is very good. The only spot that appears to be vulnerable is the right guard position. Jamon Brown has never been an above average player and Rodger Saffold has missed four or more games four times in his career with the Rams.

Defensive needs:

Linebacker – The Rams made some tangible improvements on the defensive line and in the secondary this offseason. However, they have yet to address the linebacker position. After trading away Alec Ogletree, Ramik Wilson is slated to start next to Mark Barron. Hopefully Wilson will return to his 2016 form as a starter for the Rams this season.

Targets

Third round:

Pick No. 87: Frank Ragnow, G/C, Arkansas

Los Angeles Rams 2018 NFL Draft profile

(Photo from Cleveland.com)

NFL teams look to add impact players in rounds one through three. It was a close call between giving them offensive line depth, or a potential starter at inside linebacker. In the end, an injury to a starter on the offensive line would be more devastating than an injury to a starting linebacker.

The Rams can reinforce their offensive line with a versatile player in Frank Ragnow. Ragnow started at both center and guard during his tenure at Arkansas. His senior season ended with a high ankle sprain, and as a result, an abbreviated final year. It is likely he will be a Day 2 pick in this year’s draft.

Conclusion

The 2018 Los Angeles Rams will likely be defined by the phrase “Super Bowl or bust.” Whether that is a fair statement is an argument for another time. The Rams will face a new set of challenges in 2018, but it appears they have the coaching and talent to overcome those challenges and make a run at the Lombardi Trophy.

Make sure to tune in tomorrow for the Carolina Panthers 2018 NFL Draft profile.

 

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Arizona Cardinals 2018 NFL Draft profile

The 2018 NFL Draft is a few weeks away, which means that Draftmas is back. Draftmas will take a look at each NFL team heading into this year’s draft, what their needs are and who they could be targeting. Draftmas continues today with the Arizona Cardinals 2018 NFL Draft profile.

Summary

The Cardinals, like a few other NFL franchises, regressed in 2018 due to injuries. It started in game one when David Johnson suffered a broken wrist. The 2017 season ended with 17 players missing at least two games by being placed on injured reserve. Arizona, despite all these injuries, still managed to win 8 games and this franchise will have it’s fair share of challenges heading into the 2018 season.

Arizona Cardinals 2018 NFL Draft Profile

Photo Courtesy of; NFL Draft Diamonds

Before his injury, it was apparent that this offense was going to run through David Johnson. In 2016, Johnson scored 20 total touchdowns and just over 2,000 all-purpose yards.

This offense finished the 2017 season 25th and 22nd in points and yards respectively. Carson Palmer’s injury led to more instability in offensive production (unless you’re Larry Fitzgerald).

Sadly, the Cardinals have not signed a viable bridge quarterback. While Sam Bradford is talented, it’s proven that he will struggle to play all 16 regular season games. To compete in the NFC West, the Cardinals will have to add another quarterback as an insurance policy.

Defensively, the Cardinals finished 19th and sixth in points and yards allowed respectively. This unit was in the middle of the pack for creating turnovers, tied for 16th; however, they were incredibly good on third down. The Cardinals only allowed opposing offenses to convert 35.7 percent of their third downs.

The best word to describe this defense is “solid”. Meaning, they have talent in key positions. Chandler Jones and Markus Golden can rush the passer off the edge. Patrick Peterson, Budda Baker and the newly acquired Bene’ Benwikere round out a good secondary, assuming Tyvon Branch and Antoine Bethea return healthy. There are a few positions they should look to upgrade, but with only a few picks in this year’s draft, the Cardinals will have to nail their selections.

Picks and Needs

The Cardinals are in a precarious position. They are one of the few NFC franchises without their quarterback of the future. With only four picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Cardinals need to add as many impact players as possible.

First Round (1): 15

Second Round (1): 47

Third Round (1): 79

Fourth Round (0):

Fifth Round (1): 143

Sixth Round (0):

Seventh Round (0):

Offensive Needs

Tackle: If you plan on having Sam Bradford as your starter, you need to protect him. Andre Smith is slated to start at right tackle since Jared Veldheer has been shipped to Denver. His play has steadily declined since 2014. an upgrade at the tackle position would benefit both Sam Bradford, and David Johnson.

Quarterback: It doesn’t appear that the Cardinals have the ammunition, or the intestinal fortitude to move up and claim one of the top-tier quarterbacks. It’s likely they will have to spend one of their later picks on a developmental prospect and keep their fingers crossed that Bradford’s health holds up.

Wide Receiver: Despite what his continued ability to amaze us, Larry Fitzgerald won’t play forever. He likely has two more seasons at most of being the most productive receiver on this team. The Cardinals need to take advantage of his remaining years and bring in a potential heir to Fitzgerald. His work ethic and attitude are rare, valuable assets that could be passed to a young wideout.

Defensive Needs

Linebacker: The Cardinals front seven of their 3-4 defense is solid. However, there is one flaw. By playing Deone Buchanon, a former safety at inside linebacker, they aren’t stout physically against the run. Hassan Reddick’s snap count decreased as the season went on, signaling he wasn’t adjusting as well to the NFL game. The Cardinals should consider a true inside linebacker with size and experience.

Targets

The prospects in this section are ones that the Cardinals will likely be able to select and are assuming their draft position(s) are not changing.

First Round

Pick No. 15: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

Arizona Cardinals 2018 NFL Draft Profile

Photo Courtesy; Indiana Sports Coverage

The Cardinals, if they stay put, can secure the best tackle in the draft. McGlinchey is a well-rounded, experienced and polished player at left tackle.

That is if Arizona decides to play him there. McGlinchey has experience at both tackle positions and would be a great pick to protect Sam Bradford, as well as elevate David Johnson in 2018.

If they decide to go in a different direction, the Cardinals could select Rashaan Evans from Alabama.

While this might seem like a reach, he would step in and start from day one. His experience, size, and athleticism would anchor the middle of this defense. This would let Hasson Reddick focus on rushing the passer more, as opposed to being an inside run stopper.

Overall, McGlinchey makes the most sense for the Cardinals at the 15th selection given their quarterback situation.

Second Round

Pick No. 47: Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

Sam Bradford has proven he can’t stay healthy for a full season, and he’s only under contract for two years. Rudolph would provide Arizona with quality depth at the quarterback decision. He would also have time to develop, which he needs, and work on some issues. Rudolph is unique in the sense that NFL teams don’t have a consensus on where he should be drafted. Some teams have him as a second-round pick, and others have him as a fifth-round pick. Because Arizona doesn’t have a plan past Bradford, it’s likely they take a chance on him in the second round.

Third Round

Pick No. 79: Oren Burks, LB, Vanderbilt

Deone Buchanon doesn’t have the size of a normal inside linebacker, and Hasson Reddick’s more natural position is that of an outside pass rusher. Burks would fill a need and serve as a good value in the third round of the draft.

Conclusion

The Arizona Cardinals are in a tough spot. They will have to nail their draft picks and stay healthy to keep pace with the Rams, Seahawks, and the surging 49ers.

Make sure to tune in tomorrow for the Baltimore Ravens 2018 NFL Draft profile.

 

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