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TRAPS & TRENDS: A Look Ahead To 2017

With most of the Week 16 NFL games in the books and with a huge number of fantasy bowls decided or very close to it, senior FantasySharks.com writer Matt Wilson takes a look at the 2017 fantasy prospects of 10 intriguing players in his final edition of Traps & Trends for this season.

Before you dig into the player list, I want to wish you and your family a belated Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year. Thanks for reading this season. I appreciate the kind words and constructive feedback that I’ve received about my column, and I hope to return in 2017. Keep in mind that any 2016 numbers used in the player write-ups are statistics compiled between Week 1 and Week 16.

 

1.THE REIGNING NFL MOST VALUABLE PLAYER WON’T WIN A SECOND STRAIGHT MVP TROPHY, BUT CAN HE REBOUND FROM A DISAPPOINTING 2016?

The Dude: Cam Newton

The Damage: He was one of the first quarterbacks to come off the board in fantasy drafts, but relative to Newton’s draft position, the reigning NFL Most Valuable, ranked just outside the top 15 fantasy passers, has clearly been a bust. Last season he threw for 3,837 yards and 35 touchdown passes, and carried 132 times for 636 yards and 10 scores. So far Newton has racked up 3,272 passing yards and 18 scoring strikes, and has rushed 87 times for 353 yards and five touchdowns. The sharp decline in carries is very troubling. Will Newton continue to produce similar numbers in 2017?

The Diagnosis: TRAP

Newton is way too talented not to bounce back next season. A modest regression from his career-best 2016 numbers was likely, but Newton also had a lot of things working against him. The sixth-year pro apparently has been playing with a bum throwing shoulder for a good part of the season, and his go-to wideout, Kelvin Benjamin wasn’t all the way back from ACL surgery and has been playing through other nagging injuries. The Panthers offensive line also has been a mess due to injuries. In addition, Newton’s coaches reduced his carries after Newton suffered a concussion in Week 4, which they’ll eventually see was a big overreaction. If you’re superstitious, there’s also that whole Super Bowl Bridesmaid curse thing. Anyway, he’ll bounce back and just maybe will be available at a discount.

 

2. HAS THE ARIZONA CARDINALS POTENT AERIAL ATTACK BEEN GROUNDED FOR GOOD?

The Dude: Carson Palmer

The Damage: Operating Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians aggressive downfield passing attack last season, Palmer threw for 4,671 yards and 35 touchdown passes, which were both career highs. However, even though he has attempted more passes this season (538 attempts in 2015; 559 attempts in 2016), the results have disappointing for a passer who finished as a top-five fantasy quarterback last year. Clearly lacking his 2016 consistency, Palmer has thrown for 3,978 yards and just 23 touchdowns. Assuming Palmer, who turns 37 just before the New Year, returns for the 2017 season, will we continue to see this level of production?

The Diagnosis: TREND

There are plenty of reasons why Palmer’s days as a fantasy QB1 have gone the way of the dinosaur, and that’s not a reference to his age. The Arizona Cardinals offense now flows through David Johnson. Granted, the statuesque Palmer’s skills have declined, but his receiver corps isn’t as loaded as it used to be. The disappointing Michael Floyd (Patriots) was released because of a DUI. John Brown has struggled with sickle-cell issues and has been playing a limited number of snaps. His 2017 status is unknown. Larry Fitzgerald, Palmer’s safety net, has averaged a career-low 9.6 yards per catch and has been hinting at retirement. If Fitzgerald hangs up his cleats, Palmer’s top-two wideouts likely will be Brown and the talented but still unproven J.J. Nelson.

 

3. THAT TALENTED RUNNING BACK WHO TOTES THE ROCK FOR THE LOS ANGELES RAMS…YOU KNOW, THAT GURLEY GUY…WILL WE BE WATCHING AN ESPN 30 FOR 30 FEATURE ON HIS DISAPPOINTING CAREER SOME DAY?

The Dude: Todd Gurley

The Damage: The second-year pro was a consensus first-round selection in all leagues. Even though he heads into Week 17 ranked as the fantasy RB17 in point-per-reception scoring formats, Gurley has obviously been a bust. In just 13 games played (12 starts) in 2015, he racked up 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns on 229 carries (4.8 YPC) and 21 catches for 188 yards (107.8 total yards per game). This season, however, Gurley has compiled just 845 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 264 carries (3.2 YPC) and 39 receptions for 239 yards (70.9 total yards per contest). After compiling 10 games with either 130-plus rushing yards or a touchdown in 2015, Gurley, in 2016, has eclipsed the 80-yard rushing mark just once. Will his 2017 season be a re-run of this level of production?

The Diagnosis: TRAP

A huge amount of analysis about Gurley’s very disappointing 2016 season isn’t needed. Everybody knows that he’s a stud trapped in a middle school offense. I’m going to take a big leap of faith and predict a bounce-back season for Gurley. Whoever coaches this team and whoever directs the Los Angeles offense will move Heaven and Earth to get him back on track. It will be interesting to see who lands the Rams head coaching job, and it’ll be interesting to see how far Gurley drops in 2017 fantasy drafts.

 

4. WILL THE GUY WHO WEARS NUMBER 88 FOR THE GREEN BAY PACKERS SWITCH TO A RUNNING BACK NUMBER IN 2017? AND WILL HE OWN THE PACKERS’ BACKFIELD?

The Dude: Ty Montgomery

The Damage: With Eddie Lacy (ankle surgery) banished to the injury shelf at midseason (gone for the year) and James Starks in and out of the lineup due to knee surgery and a concussion, the desperate Green Bay Packers moved Montgomery, a second-year backup wideout and former college running back, into their backfield in Week 6 as a starter. He carried just three times for six yards but caught 10 balls for 98 yards versus the Dallas Cowboys. The following week, Montgomery toted the rock nine times for 60 yards and made 10 grabs for 98 yards. A bout with sickle-cell issues and the return of Starks limited Montgomery’s non-starter workloads until the apparently healthy again the wideout re-emerged as the No. 1 guy in Week 14 with nine carries for 41 yards and one touchdown along with three receptions for 45 yards against the Seattle Seahawks. Montgomery erupted in Week 15 versus the Chicago Bears, amassing 162 rushing yards and two rushing scores on 16 carries, and two catches for one yard. However, he was quiet against in Week 16 against the Minnesota Vikings, compiling just nine catches for 23 yards and four catches for 17 yards. Will Montgomery continue to start in 2017?

The Diagnosis: TOSSUP

There are too many moving parts in the Packers’ backfield situation to make a prediction. Lacy’s contract is up, and his return is iffy. Starks, despite receiving numerous opportunities to emerge as the team’s starting tailback, has failed to impress. Will Montgomery be the lead dog? I honestly don’t know. Listed at 6-foot, 216 pounds, he has the size and skills to handle the job. While four strong fantasy outings in five stars is obviously a small sample size, Montgomery did prove that he can get the job done. Granted, he struggled against tougher defenses, but a lot of good tailbacks do the same. However, Montgomery’s sickle-cell health issues may prevent Green Bay from using him as a workhorse and force the team to bring in another veteran or a rookie. Keep an eye on Montgomery during the offseason.

 

5. HE’S LOST FOR THE REST OF 2016 WITH A BROKEN FIBULA/ANKLE, BUT THIS GUY WILL BE SET UP TO TAKE A HUGE STEP FORWARD IN 2017.

The Dude: Marcus Mariota

The Damage: With the Tennessee Titans relying heavily on their “Exotic Smash-mouth” DeMarco Murray-led ground game, Mariota got off to a slow start, averaging just 231.3 passing yards and one touchdown pass per game during the first month of the season. However, the numbers improved dramatically when he and newcomer Rishard Matthews developed some chemistry. Mariota, from Week 5 through Week 12, threw for an average of 259.1 yards and 2.6 touchdowns per contest in a still ground-based offense. He passed for at least 270 yards and at least three touchdowns in four of those eight contests. Even though Mariota tossed just one touchdown pass in his last three contests mainly due to tough matchups and the aforementioned injury, will the triggerman continue to produce good numbers in 2017?

The Diagnosis: TREND

I think the future is bright for Mariota, and he’ll take another big step forward in 2017. Don’t worry about the broken fibula/ankle; he’ll be all healed up and ready to go. A thin receiver corps is the only thing that held Mariota back when he was on the field. Delanie Walker is one of the top-level players at his position, and, while Matthews is a solid, he’s not a special player. Tajae Sharpe struggled during his rookie season, and Kendall Wright, the boom-or-bust big-play guy, faded late in the year and isn’t expected to be re-signed. I think the Titans will add some weapons for Mariota in free agency or in the draft. Don’t forget – Tennessee gets the Los Angeles’ Rams’ 2017 first and third-round selections from the Jared Goff trade. Granted, the Titans need cornerback help, but they could use one of those two selections on a big-play wideout.

About Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson has played NFL fantasy football since 1994 and has been a featured columnist at FantasySharks.com since 2008. His 18 combined years of professional writing experience includes a five-year stint as a contributing writer/editor at KFFL.com. He has been a featured contributor to The Fantasy Football Guide since 2008 and has been published regularly in the award-winning USA Today Sports Fantasy Football preview. Matt is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and holds a degree in journalism from Northern Illinois.