I recently took a few extra minutes to see if my supercomputer, Mighty Max, could be tweaked to unearth some offensive gems. As is usually the case, the results were interesting and provided some excellent insight.
I decided to use the following criteria for my search parameters:
- a three-year view of the stats (for stability)
- players whose performance had improved each year (for quality)
- a fantasy score which exceeded the positional average in 2015 (for significance)
Mighty Max was able to highlight several players likely to continue their upward trends. A few may be familiar, others not; according to Max, all of them will likely improve their performances this year.
As with all statistical analysis applied to human actions, it is not enough to just look at the numbers. You need to have an understanding of the situation of each player.
Ironically, the player that would be considered a guarantee from this group—Tom Brady—will almost certainly turn in a lower output in 2016 due to his suspension stemming from Deflategate. What can you say about Russell Wilson? He’s put up elite fantasy seasons back-to-back, and it really hasn’t been with what most would consider “elite” receiving threats. Eli Manning will probably be taken towards the lower end of the QB1 tier, but he’s a low-risk choice with a high ceiling, especially if Victor Cruz can make it back to play any sort of WR3 role.
That leaves two guys who I like as “sleeper” value. Kirk Cousins seems like the scrappy type, outlasting touted Robert Griffin III to win the starting job in Washington. Cousins certainly has the skill position players around him to continue his upward trajectory, but I also like his temperament to lead that offense. Ryan Fitzpatrick certainly put up a career year in 2015, but it wasn’t a complete rags-to-riches story; given the weapons around him (Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Matt Forte), he might present excellent value as a QB2 with streaming potential.
The interesting thing about this running back group is that there really isn’t anyone I could consider a “sleeper” type. I think it’s safe to say that Darren McFadden will probably not be increasing his production in 2016 due to the presence of heralded rookie Ezekiel Elliott. It’s hard to see Theo Riddick improving much in 2016, simply because the Lions don’t seem to view him as someone who can take the pounding (and it would be difficult for him to significantly reel in more than the 80 catches he posted in 2015). Lamar Miller and Doug Martin will likely be Top 10 picks in every redraft league.
That leaves us with Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory. Without a doubt, Ingram is an RB1 talent: he runs hard and is an underrated receiver out of the backfield; his drawback is his inability to stay healthy. Over the past three seasons, Ingram has missed a total of 12 games. If he gets devalued in your draft, say to the third or fourth round, definitely grab him. Ivory is a back I like to watch play the game; he runs hard and with purpose. In non-PPR leagues, Ivory’s value increases in my opinion, since I think he’ll be getting the bulk of first- and second-down carries and nearly all of the goal line carries. Backfield mate T.J. Yeldon will likely be the receiver of the duo as well as the guy in the hurry-up offense.
The presence of Delanie Walker and Greg Olsen on this list shouldn’t surprise anyone, as both are easily top tier TEs. The value here is clearly Zach Ertz, and not just because of his performance trajectory. Under new head coach Doug Pederson’s system, the tight end tends to be a featured target; throw in the underwhelming depth of WR talent in Philadelphia and Ertz seems poised for a big season. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ertz ends up with a Top 5 or Top 7 performance.
Wide receiver features a pair of players that are not going to take anyone by surprise: DeAndre Hopkins and Julio Jones. Michael Crabtree seems to be a top-flight WR2 in Oakland. Doug Baldwin was someone I always liked as a receiver, but up until last season was never given a prominent role in the Seahawks offense. However, I think there’s a very good chance that his performance falls off in 2016, simply because of the improbability of his matching last season’s 14 TDs. If we assume he returns to his pre-2015 average of four TDs— or perhaps six TDs— then Baldwin would need to make up 48 fantasy points. In order to get that (at his average of about 15.0 ypc), Baldwin would need to increase his 2015 reception total by 19, to an improbable 97 catches.
Age and/or roster access eliminate James Jones and Rueben Randle from consideration. That leaves Travis Benjamin as a receiver to target in later rounds. Benjamin is currently hovering in the WR4 range, but he has a chance to surprise in 2016. Not only are his numbers trending upward, but Benjamin finally gets to play with a good NFL quarterback, surrounded by other offensive skill players (Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, Melvin Gordon) that will allow him to thrive. Grabbing Benjamin as your fourth or fifth receiver should pay off handsomely with a solid flex starter, perhaps even a WR3 starter.