Usually sung throughout the Christmas season by festive Americans enthused for the holiday season, the most wonderful time of the year isn’t about snowfall and presents; it is about the pads cracking and the smell of fresh cut grass that is the unmistakable scent associated with the beginning of football season. I have always said the passing of the 4th of July weekend is the unspoken start of the shift to football season in this country. Well, I have also said that about the NFL draft weekend, and when organized team activities start and again when training camps open for NFL teams around the league. Regardless, the point is, people are yearning for gridiron competition – aka fantasy football information for those of us who don’t actually get to suit up (fortunately, coaching high school football gives me the best of both worlds).
Random fantasy football musings are kind of my thing, so that is what I will stick with. The information is pertinent to your overall plan heading into draft season, which for myself starts this month because I feel I have a distinct advantage over the competition before training camps start and the average public member starts learning pieces of information I had already predicted prior to teams taking the field. Start forming your plan of attack now for all drafts and then of course, adjust accordingly to the varying scoring systems and league formats. For the sake of my articles, a quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, and a tight end with a possible flex is the lineup I am adapting my information to.
Bottom line is, most people play PPR (point per reception) nowadays and there is not much I can do about it. The major contests in this country are PPR as well, thus the fantasy football landscape has shifted and players have adopted point per reception scoring as implied when speaking to one another. The ironic thing about all of this is, while ‘standard’ fantasy football scoring was the only thing there was in the 1990s and early-to-mid-2000s, the mindset of mostly running backs going in the first round has not changed. It is truly mind-boggling and almost laughable I still see 10 running backs go in the first round of a PPR draft.
When will people learn? The game has changed, and no I don’t mean fantasy football, I mean the sport of football. It is a passing league, and while some might argue this puts more emphasis on finding those ‘elite’ running backs, what they really mean is – it is just very difficult to hit on an early round running back. There were 12 ‘elite’ PPR players at the running back and wide receiver positions combined last year (eight were receivers and four were running backs). Out of those four backs, two had ADPs (average draft positions) in the first round. The next-best running back after those four had an ADP in Round 3. Yes, that is only one season’s results but I will just give a ‘best of luck to ya’ to all who try to dominate their league without one of these elite wideouts.
C.J. Anderson, RB, Denver Broncos
Anderson is the most talented back on the Broncos roster in all phases of the game and he will be utilized this season without question. His balance was on par with any back in the league, as was his short-area agility. It is silly though to believe that he will repeat his weekly output from a year ago from Week 12 on. In those games, he produced at a high level, he received 31 touches in Week 12 followed by 34 touches, 21 touches, 31 touches, 26 touches and 15 touches. That’s 158 touches in six ballgames, or on pace for 421 for the season. You don’t need me to tell you he won’t be getting close to that in 2015.
Fantasy analysts love to throw out coach Gary Kubiak’s affinity to ride one running back all season long but as shown in 2014 with the Baltimore Ravens, in Justin Forsett’s career year, that is more of a myth. After Week 1, it was clear he was the best back the Ravens had on the field, yet he still only racked up 58 percent of the carries throughout the year. Anderson will have a large role for a winning team and will be playing games with the lead often. But unless his backup, a player who showed a lot more on tape as a rookie in 2013 than he in 2014 when he was banged up, Montee Ball, suffers another injury, don’t expect Anderson to set the league on fire as he did towards the end of 2015.
Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A mentally tough, hard-working receiver with good top-end speed who can dominate in the red zone. He’s a player who has proven he can perform with a backup quality quarterback (the same backup he still has). He’s a player who showed marked improvement throughout the season, catching 10 touchdowns in the last nine games. He’s a player who should see more targets from a new quarterback who is not afraid whatsoever to throw the football into tight spaces. I was not convinced Evans had the functional athleticism to match his test scores coming out of college, but boy was I persuaded towards the end of his rookie year … as a 21-year-old!! I personally rank Evans above Randall Cobb and see the upside similar to what Dez Bryant put up in 2014 if everything breaks correctly. Evans had 15 red zone targets a year ago – Demaryius Thomas had 39; that number will almost certainly increase for the X receiver in Tampa. In every format, everywhere, he is a fantastic early third-round pick. Make him your elite receiver if you missed out on the top-tier of wide receivers.
Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers
Currently, Olsen’s average draft position is sitting around the late fifth round. Take that deal every time it is offered to you. First off, about 25 receivers are off the board by the time Olsen is there for you. Would you take 1,000 yards and six touchdowns from the 26th receiver taken in your draft? Of course you would. Except you are getting him at a position with an unparalleled level of uncertainty. Tight end is very weak this season, and Olsen is about as sure a thing at the position this year in the mid rounds. Tight ends don’t magically slow down at 30 years old, and Olsen’s targets and receptions have increased each of the last three years. Even with a slight dip in production, taking him around 60th overall in your draft while everybody else throws darts at the tight end position is a very good idea.
Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis
Do what you please with this information and adapt it to your scoring format, but I am projecting one of the highest scoring seasons of all time for a quarterback. He will once again throw 600 passes. He was averaging 331 passing yards per game in the first 13 games of 2014, so that is around the number I am using once more to put him at 5,250 passing yards. Also, 45 touchdowns is likely, yes, likely. With a slight dip in rushing because he won’t need to – 200 yards and two touchdowns. Yes, he will throw his 15 interceptions, but that comes with the territory when you are the most aggressive quarterback in the league. Luck if far and away the top-ranked quarterback in fantasy football and I see him approaching Aaron Rodgers’ and Drew Brees’ numbers from 2011.
Get rid of kickers in all your home leagues please, it’s 2015.
I am always open for questions at my Twitter handle @JohnnyLFootball. Thanks again for reading and start singing the Christmas carol ‘It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ to everybody around you as football starts.