Definitively predicting which players will excel, bust and everything in between is just not possible. Not too long ago I wrote about four undervalued streaming quarterback options. One of them, Miami’s Ryan Tannehill, was injured days later and decided to have season-ending knee surgery to repair a torn ACL. See, nobody can predict the future. The NFL has 32 teams filled with guys who will produce fantasy value at some point. Leading up to draft day I’m going to choose seven players from both conferences who have the potential to be good, bad or indifferent. Starting with the NFC, some of the following predictions will be accurate and the others not so much.
It’s your team. I want you to win. Consider these statistic-driven suggestions.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
Entering his sixth season, Jeffery could be great in Philadelphia’s pass-first offense that had the ninth-most completions (380) and sixth-most attempts (609) last season. Quarterback Carson Wentz should improve in his second year, and with the trade of Jordan Matthews, Jeffery is the no-doubt No. 1 option on the outside. Jeffery’s biggest red flag is his durability, having missed 17 games in five seasons with Chicago. He injured his shoulder on July 29 but is expected to start in the season opener. Jeffery played 21 games in 2015 and 2016, combining for 1,628 receiving yards on 106 receptions and six touchdowns. He played all 32 games in 2013 and 2014 for 2,554 receiving yards on 174 receptions and 17 touchdowns. In the past four years, Jeffery averaged 15 yards per reception, including 15.8 yards in 12 games a season ago. In those same four seasons of 53 games played, he averaged 5.3 receptions and just over nine targets per game. If that remains true and Wentz improves his completion percentage from 62.4 percent to 63 percent or higher this year, Jeffery will be an automatic start considering veteran quarterback Jay Cutler completed 63.2 percent of his passes the past four seasons in Chicago, and was at 62.1 percent in his first three years as a starter from 2007-09 with Denver. Philadelphia averaged the 11th-most rushing attempts per game (27.4) and tied 18th in yards per carry (4.1) last season under coach Doug Pederson, former offensive coordinator for Kansas City. Philadelphia will use a running back by committee of Ryan Mathews, LeGarrette Blount and Darren Sproles, who averaged 4.3 yards per carry last season. Despite scoring 18 touchdowns last year in New England, Blount was the least effective of the trio at 3.9 yards per carry. While Philadelphia’s running game is average, Jeffery’s about to have one the best opportunities of his career to post monster numbers and reclaim his status as a WR1. Whether he will be healthy enough to play each week is the question.
Fantasy Sharks ranks Jeffery as the 24th-best wide receiver. In recent drafts, Fantasy Football Calculator has Jeffery’s average draft position (ADP) at 4.05 and 41st selection overall based on a standard 12-team league. Take a leap of faith. His injury history is real but it’s not an indicator of things to come.
Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks
A 2011 undrafted free agent from Stanford, Baldwin, preparing for the Super Bowl in January 2014, said he doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder, noting, “I usually call it a boulder.” Fiery confidence is a reason the talented wide receiver has become one of the league’s most reliable weapons over the past two seasons. Baldwin has ranked first in total wide receiver ranking since 2012, with a score of 123.9, per Pro Football Focus. Baldwin had 1,128 receiving yards on 94 receptions and seven touchdowns last year. In 2015, he scored 14 touchdowns on 1,069 receiving yards and 78 receptions. He also averaged 12.9 yards per reception in those two years. But that doesn’t do Baldwin’s productivity justice. His 94 receptions last year were on 125 targets, meaning he caught 75.2 percent of quarterback Russell Wilson’s attempts. Of those 94 receptions, Baldwin dropped one pass, which is the best rate compared to the other 103 players with one drop, per SporingCharts. Wilson completed 64.7 percent of 546 pass attempts last year. In 2015, when Wilson completed 68.1 percent of 482 pass attempts, Baldwin caught 75.7 percent of 103 targets with two drops. Those numbers could improve if Seattle’s offensive line gives a now healthy Wilson more time in the pocket and the running game regains its form. Baldwin is quick, catches almost everything in his vicinity, and is arguably one of the best route runners in the NFL.
Fantasy Sharks ranks Baldwin as the 10th-best wide receiver. In recent drafts, Fantasy Football Calculator has Baldwin’s ADP at 3.04 and 27th selection overall. Baldwin was a WR1 last year who is going in the early third round. Feel good selecting him in the late second round if a draft scenario deems it necessary. His name may not be sexy, but Baldwin is the go-to receiver on a sneaky dangerous offense.
Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons
There comes a point in everyone’s life when they should admit they were wrong. Fantasy football is no different. If you are like me, it’s time to stop doubting Freeman. In his three-year career, the Florida State standout has proven to be legit, posting RB1 stats as an elite dual-threat starter. In the 2015 and 2016 seasons he gained 2,135 rushing yards on 492 carries (4.4 yards per carry) and 22 touchdowns, as well as 1,040 receiving yards on 127 receptions (8.2 yards per reception) and five touchdowns. Freeman missed one game in 2015 and started 16 games the following year. Running back Tevin Coleman is a productive backup who takes carries and receptions away from Freeman. They’re perhaps the league’s best 1-2 combo in the backfield. Although fantasy owners would prefer Freeman to get the overwhelming lion’s share of the work, a lighter workload is one reason Freeman’s a baller throughout the season. Quarterback Matt Ryan had the best season of his nine-year career in 2016, including career highs in touchdown passes (38), passing yards per game (309) and competition percentage (69.9). Expect to see regression on his part, especially with new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Sarkisian better have learned a valuable lesson from his predecessor, Kyle Shanahan, that it’s a good idea to call more running and short pass plays so the Atlanta high-powered offense doesn’t blow a large lead.
Fantasy Sharks ranks Freeman as the fourth-best running back. In recent drafts, Fantasy Football Calculator has Freeman’s ADP at 1.07 and seventh selection overall. The current ADP has Freeman positioned correctly. He was placed in the concussion protocol on Monday. Nothing to be concerned about. It’s early. In no order, once running backs David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, LeSean McCoy and wide receivers Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. go off the board, Freeman is the best option. Don’t question Freeman because he will prove the doubters wrong – again.