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AFC East: A Pre-Draft Fantasy Assessment

It’s so nice when a plan actually comes together. As I mentioned in the previous edition of this series, I was saving certain divisions for last as they had very big questions looming. The New England Patriots were specifically the last team we were going to examine as the Tom Brady situation had not been finalized. Well, that all changed when the appeals court upheld his four-game suspension early this week.

I am not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV, so there could be some avenues for Brady to explore to get out of the suspension once again. I honestly have no idea what those options would be at this time. Early indications from legal folks I’ve seen talk since the decision came down seem to indicate that Brady’s chances are slim and none. There will be plenty of folks more scholarly than myself that will break down that side of things in the coming weeks.

With time being of the essence, we will press forward with our pre-draft fantasy breakdowns.

The NFL draft, or as we here in Detroit call it ‘The Super Bowl,’ officially gets underway this week (there is that time of the essence thing I mentioned). With the mega-deals that Los Angeles and Philadelphia recently made there is more intrigue than ever heading into this year’s draft.

Where does Ezekiel Elliott end up? Is Laquon Treadwell the first WR off the board? Will Sam Bradford or Colin Kaepernick be traded during the draft weekend? Soon all these questions will be answered and 2016 fantasy rankings will be sprouting up like dandelions.

In the mean time, we have reached the final division to evaluate from an early fantasy perspective. Yes. Old Uncle Waldo managed to come in just under the wire and some 40,000 words later is finished with the division by division breakdown.

Let’s take a look at the AFC East.

 

MIAMI DOLPHINS

 

QB- After posting his first top-10 fantasy finish in 2014, Ryan Tannehill couldn’t keep the positive momentum going and dropped outside the top 12 last year. Still only 27 years old (he turns 28 in July), there is plenty of time for Tannehill to develop into a fantasy factor. The hiring of former Bears and Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase as head coach should be a step in the right direction for Tannehill. Gase is considered one of the better young offensive minds in the game and was the offensive coordinator when Peyton Manning was putting up some of his best numbers in Denver and made Jay Cutler look downright serviceable last season. The Cutler deal is probably the more impressive of the two because Manning was…well, Manning.

Before Gase can work any magic with Tannehill the team needs to figure out a way to keep him upright. Tannehill was sacked 45 times last season and 184 times in his career which leads the league since 2012. I am no QB guru, but I do know that you can’t complete very many passes while flat on your back. If the O-line can address the protection issues then the weapons are in place for this offense to move the ball through the air. The WR corps is a young talented group with Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills leading the way. Look for the new offense to figure out a way to get Jordan Cameron more involved after a disastrous first year in Miami. All that being said, we need to see this offense improve under the new regime before considering drafting Tannehill as anything more than a QB2.

After all, despite being praised for getting Cutler on track it’s no lock that Gase vastly improves Tannehill’s fantasy output. Cutler still finished well outside the top 15 fantasy QBs. Tannehill should currently be valued as the 18th or 19th QB off the board.

Matt Moore will continue to be Tannehill’s backup (this makes five years in a row for those of you counting at home) and has zero fantasy value.

 

RB- This is a situation that is far from solidified at this time. With Lamar Miller being allowed to leave town and sign with the Houston Texans, the Dolphins are razor thin at the RB position. As things stand right now, Jay Ajayi sits atop the depth chart. According to Andrew Abramson via Twitter, new head coach Adam Gase has made it known that he wants a “stable” of RBs. Let’s take a quick look at the current stable that Miami has on it’s roster.

Behind Ajayi we have Damien Williams who has averaged less than four yards per carry in his first two seasons but has flashed in the receiving game with 42 career receptions with two scores. Then we have retreads Daniel Thomas and Isaiah Pead both of whom were basically out of the league last season. Wait. Pead did have a pair of carries for three yards with a fumble lost. It’s hard to imagine that this is the stable of backs that Gase is looking to enter the season with.

The Dolphins have been exploring other options as they tendered an offer to C.J. Anderson that prompted the Broncos to bring him back. A player to keep an eye on is Arian Foster who was brought in for a visit but it appears that Miami is going to hold off on making an offer to the veteran until he’s healthy and his asking price comes down. A few mock drafts I have seen lately have Miami selecting Ezekiel Elliott with the 13th overall pick but there is no guarantee that he lasts that long as many more mocks have the Cowboys snagging Elliott at number four.

During a recent appearance on the Fantasy Football Feeding Frenzy pod cast Fantasy Sharks draft expert Dan Collins suggested that Miami is a team to keep an eye on during the draft to possibly swing a deal to move up and grab Elliott. Until we see how the backfield situation plays out it’s hard to see Jay Ajayi among the top 30 RBs for fantasy purposes at this time. Stay tuned.

 

WR- While the offense in general wasn’t anything to write home about it was encouraging to see Jarvis Landry put up 111 receptions in his sophomore campaign. That was an increase of 27 and he topped the 1,100 receiving yards total but caught one less touchdown than in his first NFL season (he did rush for a score last year). He managed to finish as a top-20 receiver in both standard and PPR scoring formats operating out of the slot position. There have been recent reports by MMQB that Landry will be used as an outside WR more this season with new head coach Gase and offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen running the offense. That will likely lead to a regression in targets as well as receptions but the chance to put up more big plays for Landry.

Ideally the new coaching regime will want to see the targets spread out among the receiving corps a lot more evenly than they were last season when Landry saw over 100 more targets than #2 WR Rishard Matthews (who has since moved on to Tennessee). Landry is currently a high-end WR3 with the upside to reach WR2 numbers if he can increase his TD totals in 2016.

One of the main beneficiaries of the spreading around of targets is expected to be second-year WR DeVante Parker. Big things are expected out of Parker after he spent his rookie season trying to recover from a broken foot suffered while still at Louisville and then underwent a subsequent offseason surgery on the same foot. He did manage to haul in 26 receptions for over 490 yards and three scores while never being fully healthy. There have been rumblings of late that Parker is expected to step into the ‘X’ receiver role in Gase’s offense (think Demaryius Thomas of the Broncos) and that should equate to a high volume of targets. Even through his injury-plagued rookie campaign, Parker flashed the skills to be a fantasy factor and will have the chance to strut his stuff. Solid WR3 production is the floor for Parker and if this offense can start clicking, WR2 numbers are definitely a possibility.

According to Andrew Abramson via Twitter, new head coach Adam Gase has said Kenny Stills will be more involved in the offense this season. That sounds nice for Stills who will be the deep threat for Ryan Tannehill but it’s hard to imagine that there will be enough targets for Stills to post consistent fantasy numbers. A top 45 finish for fantasy purposes in 2016 would be considered a very nice season for Stills.

 

TE- The fantasy football stars could be aligning for Jordan Cameron to have a bounce-back season. Offenses run by Adam Gase (yes, we believe that he will have a huge hand in how this offense operates) have gotten very nice production from the TE position. With Gase running the offense in Denver, Julius Thomas posted back-to-back 12-touchdown seasons while averaging 16 red zone targets. Last season in Chicago, a pouting Martellus Bennett and  Zach Miller combined for 878 yards and eight scores. Cameron renegotiated his contract to stay in Miami and that move certainly has the potential to pay off.

Last year was a huge disappointment as Cameron hauled in only half of the 70 targets he saw and finished with three touchdowns. A recent recent Miami Herald report has Gates “interested” in working with Cameron, “I’m interested to see what we can do with him, what his strengths are,” Gase said. “I need to see him live. I need to experiment, need to flex him out and see what he’s comfortable doing, what routes he likes to do. That’s going to be a learning experience for our coaching staff.”

At 6’ 5” and 260-pounds, Cameron has shown the skills and athleticism to be a fantasy force. Back in 2013, he put up top-five fantasy totals as a member of the Cleveland Browns. This is another situation to monitor during training camp and the preseason while we wait to see how quickly this offense picks up the new scheme. Cameron has a high-end TE2 floor with TE1 upside if he holds down the starting gig all season. Should Cameron struggle once again keep the name Dion Sims in mind as one of these Miami TEs will post solid numbers.

 

K- Last season Andrew Franks attempted only 16 field goals which tied Ryan Succop of the Titans for the lowest totals for kickers that played 16 games. Needless to say, Franks finished well outside the top 20 in fantasy scoring and let’s wait and see if the new offense can move the ball before considering drafting the kid. There will be a much better options available.

 

D/ST- It’s not surprising in a season where the head coach did not make it through 16 games that the defense was less than effective. This unit struggled to stop the run, pressure the quarterback and create big plays. Besides that, it was all peaches and cream. The overhaul is underway and new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is expected to run a 4-3 scheme which should fit nicely with the personnel that is in place as well as with the free agents signed.

Miami will try to replace the production they lost when Olivier Vernon left via free agency with veteran Mario Williams. Williams flat out mailed it in last season for Buffalo, but according to dolphins.com he has promised to bring “the best attitude” he’s ever had. Take that for what it’s worth as Williams will be lining up as the bookend to Cameron Wake who is coming off of an Achilles injury that cost him the final nine games last year. The duo are both north of 30 and Miami is gambling that they have at least one more big season in them.

Ndamukong Suh will command the usual attention he does in the middle perhaps opening things up for the aging duo. Suh is never going to reach the double-digit sacks total he had as a rookie but continues to be an interior force after notching 58 total tackles last year.

Kiko Alonso was added via a trade from the Eagles and will step in as the starting MLB with Jelani Jenkins playing WLB and Koa Misi manning the SLB role. For Alonso and this unit to be effective we need to see that he is indeed finally over the knee injury that cost him all of 2014 and five games last year.

All in all it’s an underwhelming group when it comes to big play potential and some help may be added via trade. The secondary will be led by S Reshad Jones who led the team in tackles as well as interceptions last year. The acquisition of CB Byron Maxwell does not even offset the loss of the aging Brent Grimes and S Isa Abdul-Quddus (formerly of the Detroit Lions) remains a bit of an unproven commodity. When a defense undergoes the changes in coaching staff and personnel that Miami has it usually takes a year or two for the unit to gel. Let’s go ahead and skip drafting this D/ST for fantasy purposes in 2016.

About Wally Spurlin

Wally Spurlin is a Fantasy Football Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writer Association (FSWA). Spurlin’s work has appeared in print publications, including the FSWA award winning 2014 USA Today Fantasy Football magazine as well as the 2015 edition. Wally is also a weekly co-host on the Fantasy Football Feeding Frenzy pod cast on Fantasy Sharks Radio at Blog Talk Radio.Follow him on Twitter @WaltonSpurlin