(Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)
Recently, the staff at QB List came together for an article we dubbed “QB List Staff Fantasy Favorites” where we each shared our top picks for the respective categories:
- “Your Guy” – One of your must-have players for this season and one that ends up on all/near all of your teams.
- “Favorite Sleeper” – A player who could blow up, but you could also see them not. Generally said player comes at a very low cost or an extreme discount in terms of an ADP/$ amount.
- “Bounce-Back Candidate” – A player with previous NFL success or high draft pick expectations that failed to meet expectations a year ago and now is often able to be acquired at a cheaper cost than the year before.
- “Bust Pick” – A player with high expectations for performance in 2018 that may finish with poor statistical results and not return the appropriate value for their ADP/$ amount this year.
You can read more staff picks in the article linked above and there will be more staff articles explaining author picks in further depth coming soon so keep an eye out for those! Without further ado, let’s get into my selections:
Jamison Crowder, (WR, Washington Redskins) – “My Guy”
2017 was a bit of a frustrating year for the slot WR Jamison Crowder and his fantasy owners. He was coming off of an impressive 2016 in which he caught 67 balls for 847 yards and 7 TDs on 99 targets, but dealt with a hamstring injury which caused him to miss one game and finished with 66 catches for 789 yards and three TDs in 103 targets to rank 33rd in WR scoring in PPR leagues. The result was worth a below-average DVOA mark -4.5% which ranked 57th among WRs. Do note though that over Crowder’s last nine games, he caught 47 passes for 640 yards and three TDs on 73 targets, which projected over 16 games would have delivered 84 catches for 1,138 yards and five TDs.
Looking ahead to 2018, Crowder is my guy this year because I think his skill set aligns perfectly with new QB Alex Smith and that he’s primed to be the top receiving option in the Redskins offense. Alex Smith is known as a QB that has had success by not making mistakes and he does so by rarely throwing into tight coverage. In fact, Smith threw into tight coverage less than any other starting QB in the league last year and Crowder finished eighth in terms of separation at the time of target according to Next Gen Stats which means he’s open a ton and I think the pair’s skill sets match up really well. Crowder should be a reliable option for Smith as he posted a solid 64.08% catch rate last year which tied with Adam Thielen and ranks ahead of names like Antonio Brown, Davante Adams, and Julio Jones. Furthermore, in the past five years, Smith owns a combined 102.8 quarterback rating when targeting slot receivers. That’s third best in the NFL over that time for quarterbacks who have made at least 30 starts, trailing only Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson. Smith owns the ninth-most completions to slot receivers in that period.
Another factor is that the Redskins brought in WR Paul Richardson who should stretch the field and help open up things underneath for Crowder in the slot, while Josh Docton remains as the other starting WR on the outside and commands attention himself. Now you may be questioning the validity of a slot WR and fantasy relevance, but 5 of the top 15 WRs in PPR points a year ago ran 43+% of their routes from the slot which shows that slot WRs can be valuable in fantasy. Early reports out of camp suggest that there was a quick bond and that Jamison Crowder is flourishing with Alex Smith in practice. I think this all makes him an excellent value WR3 that should be in the Flex discussion, especially in PPR leagues, with a chance to catch 90+ balls for 1,100+ yards with five to seven TDs. Looking forward to what Crowder and Smith do together on Sundays during the regular season!
Anthony Miller, (WR, Chicago Bears) – “Favorite Sleeper”
Miller was a 2nd round pick of the Chicago Bears, and he’s listed at 5 foot 11, 203 pounds which is on the smaller side for an NFL receiver, yet it didn’t stop him from dominating the college level at the University of Memphis where he was one of the most productive WR’s in the entire country both in 2016 and 2017. He broke out in 2016 as he finished 10th in the country in catches, 9th in receiving yards, and 9th in TDs, all of which were Memphis school records that were previously held by 4-time pro-bowler Isaac Bruce. He then went out and broke his own school records with a 96 reception, 1462 yards, and 18 TD season last year in which he led the country in TDs. He’s not just numbers too, he’s a guy that jumps out on tape as an explosive WR with elite burst and strong route-running skills that helps him separate well, and has the technique, ball skills, and hands to make special plays on the ball.
Now some of you may be questioning the role that Miller can secure in a suddenly talented Bears offense that includes big-money free agent signing WR Allen Robinson, TE Trey Burton, WRs Taylor Gabriel and Kevin White, along with RBs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, but Miller has been impressing in camp seemingly daily and the team has him earmarked for the slot role in the offense. He will be used all over the field similar, but second-year quarterback, Mitch Trubisky excelled on throws to the middle of the field, recording a 105-passer rating in that zone which fits with Miller’s slot role and skillset. The Bears are also full of deep threats in Robinson (career 14.1 YPC and 17.5 YPC in his breakout 2015 season) and Taylor Gabriel (career 13.8 YPC and 16.5 YPC in his breakout 2016), and that leaves Miller and Burton to soak up the short and medium area targets where Miller should thrive thanks to his burst and agility and route running expertise.
Also note that it typically takes some time for a wide receiver to learn a new offense and a QB to get comfortable with a WR, which puts someone like WR1 Allen Robinson behind where the rest of the wide receiver group would be considering that he has largely been limited to individual drills in camp while recovering from his ACL injury. Additionally, Robinson regressed heavily after a breakout 2015 season by managing a mere 73 grabs for 833 yards, despite receiving 150 targets in 2016. This leads me to believe that Miller can carve out a strong role in the offense and overall, I am very intrigued with him as this year’s Cooper Kupp (note that both were older and more NFL ready rookies at 23 entering the league). I believe he can provide something like 60 catches for 800+ yards and five TDs as a starting point with the upside for more.
Marcus Mariota, (QB, Tennessee Titans) – Bounce-back Candidate
There were some high expectations for Mariota after a sophomore NFL season in which he threw 26 TDs against 9 TDs with a solid 61.2% completion percentage and also picked up an additional 349 yards of rushing and 2 TDs. That season was worth a +11.1 DVOA ranking in terms of passing which ranked 10th best. The hype grew even higher after the Titans selected WR Corey Davis with the 5th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft. 2018 didn’t go as planned for Mariota and fantasy owners as he struggled to throw TDs (13) while making more mistakes (15 interceptions) and ultimately finished as the 18th ranked QB in fantasy last year.
Looking ahead to 2018, I am optimistic because of the new coaching staff in Tennessee including Matt LaFleur who is the new Offensive Coordinator. LaFleur has been on the coaching staff when these notable QBs had their best seasons: Jared Goff in 2017, Matt Ryan in 2016, Everett Golson in 2014, Robert Griffin III in 2012, and Matt Schaub in 2009. Also of note is that Mariota’s QB rating was 53 points higher last season off of play action plays but just 22% of his attempts came off of play action plays (ranked 19th). Under LaFleur, 29% of Jared Goff’s attempts came off of play action which ranked 3rd highest in the league.
Based on Mariota’s lack of success last year and questions with the possible production at WR, Marcus will be drafted as a backup Fantasy QB in 2018. I believe he has top 12 talent for sure though and could provide nice value to those that wait on the QB position. The skillset of Mariota and the playcalling of LaFleur seem to align well and the addition of RB Dion Lewis along with a healthy TE Delanie Walker and a 2nd year WR Corey Davis leads me to believe in a bounce-back year for Mariota. His passing attempts will rank well below the league average, and so his winning value will need to come from his ability to run and rack up TDs. 4,000 combined yards with just over league average TDs should be well within range for Mariota and enough to get him in that top 12 QB discussion.
Dalvin Cook, (RB, Minnesota Vikings) – “Bust”
I want to make it clear that I made this pick despite me owning him in a competitive dynasty league. First, you have to recognize the injury risk of a RB coming off of an ACL injury. That’s a grueling position for a guy coming off of an injury like that, and yes guys like Adrian Peterson and Jamal Charles did so effectively, but even they were discounted to third or fourth round draft picks in fantasy coming off of their injuries and that was two guys with a lot of proven history prior. Cook is going in the 2nd round while having just 4 NFL games on his resume and I think that speaks to the risk associated with Cook this year.
Outside of the injury risk, the Vikings O-Line is shaping up to be a weakness of the team. Pro Football Focus (PFF) ranked the Vikings offensive line 22nd best last year and recently was ranked 27th in the league going into 2018 by our own Paul Ghiglieri with the only likely change at RT if second-round pick Brian O’Neill can win the starting job. Based on O’Neill’s 1-on-1 performances at the Senior Bowl though, where he won only 27 percent of his reps, he may not be NFL ready anytime soon. The Vikings also, unfortunately, have had injury issues so far in camp on the O-Line including Nick Easton who was the starting LG, and has a neck injury that likely ends his season.
Between the potential injury risk and the offensive line issues, I think there’s a chance for Dalvin Cook to not provide good value based on his ADP/$ value and therefore I chose him as my bust pick.
Do you agree or disagree with my picks and reasoning, feel free to comment below!