Congratulations are in order for the Denver Broncos and especially to defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and the entire defense.
What can I say? I started out in this business as strictly an IDP guy and appreciate great defense when I see it.
Here’s hoping that Peyton Manning takes a cue from his general manager John Elway and rides off into the sunset with his second Super Bowl victory. We touch on a Manning scenario a little later on in this piece.
So with the 2015 season firmly in the books we continue an early division-by-division look at the fantasy prospective of each team. Let’s head out west shall we?
SAN FRANCISCO 49ers
QB- New head coach Chip Kelly is playing his cards close to the vest regarding the QB situation heading into 2016. The logical inclination would be that Kelly would like to be the man that revives Colin Kaepernick’s career proving once again that he is indeed still the smartest guy in the room. Kaepernick is currently recovering from three separate surgeries (torn labrum, thumb ligaments and a knee scope) and could miss a large portion if not all of OTAs but be ready to go for training camp.
While Kelly covets “repetitive accuracy” from his QB, he has also had the most success with dual-threats at the position that can run the ball effectively. During his time in Philadelphia, Kelly never had a QB that fit that mold, so having the chance to work with Kaepernick has to be enticing. Recent reports that Kaepernick wants out of San Francisco and would like to play for the New York Jets are a bit surprising but warrant some attention moving forward (the Jets don’t seem to have an interest in Kaepernick). There is the real possibility that we never get to see what Kelly can do with Kaepernick as the team may be looking to move him.
I will fully admit that Blaine Gabbert played far better than I ever expected he would once he took over the reins of the offense. The bar was very low, so yes, 11 total touchdowns and seven interceptions were surprisingly good numbers for Gabbert. That being said, from Weeks 9-17 when he was the starter, he was roughly the 18th highest-scoring fantasy QB.
It’s difficult to rank Kaepernick anywhere but outside the top 15 QBs heading into 2016 until we hear he has the 49ers job secured or is traded/released and we know where he lands. This is definitely a wait and see scenario.
RB- This position was a quagmire of epic proportions in 2015 for the 49ers. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a quick look at the list of players that had at least four carries from the RB position last season. Carlos Hyde, Shaun Draughn, DuJuan Harris, Bruce Miller, Kendall Gaskins, Mike Davis, Travaris Cadet, Jarryd Hayne, Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas. Rarely have so many combined to accomplish so little. For the season, the group combined for 1,091 rushing yards on 311 carries (which works out to a less than robust 3.5 yards per carry) and scored five total touchdowns. As a quick point of reference we’d like to point out that Todd Gurley of the St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams had 1,108 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in only 13 games.
Outside of Hyde and Bush, that list reads like a ‘who’s who’ of NFL practice squads and waiver wire fodder. All is not lost as new head coach Chip Kelly loves to run the ball and does have a potential workhorse back in Carlos Hyde. A fractured foot limited Hyde to playing only seven games during his sophomore campaign and he finished with 523 total yards and a single touchdown. That may be a blessing in disguise as the offensive line was horrendous and nine additional games trying to run behind it would have subjected Hyde to additional beatings. He has the size and skill set to be a fantasy factor in Kelly’s style of offense and is a candidate for a breakout season. As long as the foot checks out before training camp and the 49ers address their woes along the offensive line Hyde brings high-end RB 2 potential to the 2016 season.
Reggie Bush had better hope he wins his lawsuit against the St. Louis Regional Convention and Stadium authority (he tore his meniscus slipping on a concrete ring surround the field) because his days as a NFL or fantasy factor are over.
While Jarryd Hayne (of rugby fame) is an interesting story and a player who GM Trent Baalke recently stated that Kelly “is excited to get his hands on” he is far from the fantasy radar. We love Hayne’s size and grit but he rarely played last year and it’s unlikely that in one season Kelly can work enough magic to make him a viable NFL player.
WR- While the RB position was a long list of “has been,” “never was” and “maybes” the WRs were a short list of mainly “yuck.” With spotty (I am being kind) QB play for most of the season there was not much fantasy goodness to go around in the receiving game. It didn’t help that there were few quality options available to catch the ball either. Despite missing a pair of games, Anquan Boldin led the team with 69 receptions for 789 yards and four touchdowns. Those numbers weren’t good enough to land Boldin higher than 40th in either PPR or standard scoring formats.
Boldin is a free agent that will be 36 years old this season and remains one of the best route runners in the league with an exceptional “My ball” mentality. Look for Boldin to try and land with a contender next season (Kansas City or New England would work) but carry less than ideal fantasy value as a complimentary piece. The likely best case scenario would be high-end WR3 with upside in PPR formats should Boldin land on a team with a quality QB. Should Boldin resign with the 49ers we see roughly the same fantasy value in a Chip Kelly offense with QB questions.
Let’s start with the good news concerning Torrey Smith, shall we? In his first season with San Francisco after signing a five-year deal, he averaged 20.1 yards per reception. Now for the bad news. Everything else. Smith had career lows in receptions (33), receiving yards (663) while also equaling his previous low (2013) in touchdowns with four. The one thing Smith does well is run deep routes and he needs a strong-armed QB to get him the ball. Yes, Colin Kaepernick does have a strong arm and Smith posted his two highest yardage totals with Kaepernick under center. Smith is a boom or bust option that is never going to catch 80 passes for 1,200 yards but could hold solid WR4/flex value with high-end WR3 upside if Kaepernick is the QB next season.
Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington, Jerome Simpson and DeAndrew White combined for 50 receptions and two touchdowns last season. No thanks. Look for the 49ers to reload at WR via free agency and the NFL draft.
TE- If there was one bright spot (and it really wasn’t all that bright) it was the emergence of Vance McDonald as the primary TE in the offense. After Vernon Davis was shipped to Denver and Garrett Celek was lost to injury, McDonald flashed some fantasy potential down the stretch. From Weeks 11-17, McDonald posted 21 receptions for 262 yards and three touchdowns. McDonald proved to be an above average red zone threat as he was targeted seven times in those games and all three of the touchdowns came from inside the 20.
In the Chip Kelly offense, TEs can excel and Zach Ertz finished 2015 with 75 receptions for 853 yards and a pair of scores (We know Kelly didn’t coach Week 17 but the offense was pretty much the same so we included those numbers for Ertz).
Look for McDonald to face stiff competition from Blake Bell for the top TE spot during training camp as the kid is a talented pass-catching option. Whoever wins the job will still land far outside the top 12 TE rankings for fantasy purposes until we see if Kelly can work his magic on the offense.
K- Veteran Phil Dawson finished far outside the top 12 last season as the train wreck that was the 49ers offense just didn’t score enough and he attempted just 21 extra points. Dawson is a free agent and is 41 years old. There’s been no talk as to whether or not they intend to try and bring him back or go with a younger option for 2016. It doesn’t matter as we’ll be avoiding the San Francisco kicker either way.
D/ST- Once Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and Chris Borland retired prior to the season so we knew this defense was going to struggle. Couple those players being gone with an anemic offense and you get the worst fantasy scoring defense of 2015 (and the 29th worst defense in the NFL). Even with Navorro Bowman playing his heart out after returning from a horrific knee injury, this unit lacked playmakers and struggled with every facet of the game. The 12 turnovers this defense produced was second to last in the league with only the Dallas Cowboys having fewer with 11.
Things are not likely to get any better with new defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil coming to town. In his two seasons as the Cleveland Browns DC the team finished 16th (2014) and 24th in fantasy scoring. We’ll pass.