by Dan Trader (@RotoNostra)
In fantasy football, only single players are highlighted and given room to shine, regardless if they’re on a great or horrible team in real life. So what I chose to do instead of standard power rankings was take a look at all 32 NFL teams and rank them based on their fantasy relevance for the 2016 season in standard leagues, considering their current rosters, systems and surrounding conditions as criteria. Much can change between now and the opening of the regular season, but the following rankings are merely opinions from my perspective based on the current state of affairs and are ranked in the order in which I would invest in them, not based on which teams will have the best records at the end of the season.
The rest of the rankings can be found here.
The 2016 season ended in confetti for Denver, and simultaneously the ol’ dusty trail for future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, who last we heard was riding horseback towards a canvas-worthy horizon of deep magentas and vibrant marigold while whistling a western rendition of that confounded Nationwide jingle.
Pey-Pey hung up his cleats after winning his second title and securing his legacy, but he still wasn’t the only QB to leave for greener pastures during the offseason. The apparently disgruntled heir-apparent Brock Osweiler signed a fat contract for sky-high stacks to run the offense down in Houston, leaving the starting spot practically vacant upon departure with only Trevor Siemian remaining at the position.
That was just the beginning of the offseason. It’s true, there’s much talent on this roster. But while many key pieces do remain from the victorious Super Bowl 50 squad of 2015, the team-turnover has left me rather ambivalent, especially in regards to offensive production, and possibly even bordering on skeptical, going into this year.
Addressing the Offensive Line
Last season, the offensive line was largely inconsistent and involved a surplus of combinations–eight different players saw over 100 snaps–and GM John Elway vowed to address it during the offseason. Not much time had transpired before Denver lost Evan Mathis, traded Ryan Clady, and released Louis Vasquez, but they also brought in a couple familiar faces too in Russell Okung from Seattle and Donald Stephenson from Kansas City.
While you may recognize several names on the 2016 offensive line, keep in mind that this group is basically brand new and unproven as a unit. You’ll quickly find yourself in hot water as a fantasy GM if you start presuming success based on name-brand recognition in these types of situations. I’m not saying they won’t be efficient. It’s just simply not a strong enough reason to fall in love with the offense or assume the position is reformed until we actually see them perform together cohesively. Sure, it’s a reason to be optimistic, but you’d be wise to not draw a straight line from the offseason o-line moves to immediate offensive success or a reason to be enamored by someone like C.J. Anderson.
Sanchez, the Terrible
In the wake of Manning’s departure, Mark Sanchez butt-fumbled his way into a trade at the beginning of the off-season and was most likely initially picked up to fulfill a back-up role. But now that Osweiller is out of the picture as well, it seems as though the starting job is his to lose going into 2016.
Sanchez is not their QB of the future though, and even despite Manning’s decline in play last season, his football IQ, among many other intangibles, certainly contributed to the team’s overall success. He was absolutely supported by a dominant defense, but anyone who says that Sanchez can’t be any worse than Manning last season hasn’t been paying attention.
Sanchez had the third-lowest defensive-adjusted yards above replacement last year (among QBs ranging from 10-199 attempts) with -227 on 91 attempts. His defensive-adjusted value over average was -46.9%. Translation: he’s on his own terrible tier. I know he only played four games last season, but this is nothing new. Although his completion percentage has been decent the past two seasons, I feel it’s due to a pretty shallow average depth of target. His best statistical year was in 2011 but he hasn’t thrown over anywhere close to 26 touchdowns or neared 3,500 yards since then. If anything, he’s been slowing declining. He’s only thrown for 300+ yards 12 times in his six professional seasons. He has decent arm strength but is notoriously bad at decision making, possibly caused by difficulty reading defenses. This leaves Sanchez too inconsistent to trust in fantasy on a regular basis. He may come through in favorable matchups, but that’s far from a guarantee.
If he stays the starter, we will most likely see signature Sanchez eventually, but Denver traded into the first-round of the 2016 NFL Draft to pick up their future signal caller in Paxton Lynch. Given their investment, Denver might not be willing to throw Lynch out there too soon. He seems to have the attributes that will lend to at least a moderately successful long-term career, but he’s definitely not nearly as developed as Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston were coming into the league. His 288 rushing attempts over the course of his time at Memphis certainly will add to his future fantasy relevance, but in all-likelihood he isn’t ready to be the starter, and rushing him onto the field–should Sanchez underperform–could be detrimental to Denver’s plans for the future. The Broncos could turn to the only remaining option after these two QBs if all else fails, who has also had the privilege of being in Denver’s system for a full year, in Trevor Siemian.
Returning to Form?
We could regurgitate a thousand reasons why we should love C.J. Anderson this year in fantasy and why he was bad last year, from nagging injuries and issues along the o-line to coach Kubiak’s offseason praise and his history running the ball. Throw in some uncertainty at the QB position and sure-fire volume has C.J. primed for a return to form, right?
Who knows, he may have enough volume on his side in 2016 to put up decent fantasy points. But with the front office spending a second-round pick on an arguably more exciting prospect in Devontae Booker (with very similar measurables) and extending Ronnie Hillman’s contract says otherwise to me.
Anderson helped me win two titles in 2014 but I was flat-out completely avoiding him in 2015. Because while their games are not relatable, I saw C.J. Anderson and Eddie Lacy as the same type of player: someone who’s a fairly good player, though not particularly special at any one thing, and can get the job done when their respective (elite) offenses are operating at full speed and efficiency. However, they’re far from players who can carry their team on their own.
Maybe injuries and an inconsistent o-line really did have something to do with his ineffectiveness last season, but once Manning was in regression, the run-game was essentially a non-factor.
Anderson showed resurgence in the tail end of 2015, and apparently that was all the fantasy owners needed to see. The fantasy market is usually a pretty accurate reflection of how reactionary the community is from season to season, but this year it’s almost like we’ve become amnesiacs and forgot how much he let us down.
I’m not saying to avoid him this season because he’s at least getting drafted outside of the first round–unlike last year–so the investment you’d have to make on him won’t be nearly as high. If I were going to draft him, it’d be as my RB2 or 3. Because as much as I like the talent around him and his situation, I feel a committee attack brewing in Denver and I’m scared to invest in an offense headed by Sanchez. But I won't deny Kubiak's history with running backs, so like I said, volume could be in his favor if he can stay productive with the touches he gets initially.
Whether you’re targeting Anderson or not, do yourself a favor and pickup Booker at the tail-end of your drafts.
Price Check in Aisle 9
Despite how I feel about Sanchez, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders probably provide him with the most talent he’s ever had at his disposal at the position. What we’re hoping for out of these two is to make plays after the catch, and I still think they are each looking at a healthy enough volume of targets to do aerial damage.
Demaryius disappointed many owners last year despite finishing with 105 receptions, 1,304 yards and six touchdowns. He only scored once in the first eight games and had concentration issues at times, credited with nine drops in 2015.
In my opinion, Thomas was a victim of Manning’s regression last season. His red zone opportunities were basically cut in half from the previous year, resulting in only three RZ scores compared to six in 2014. The good news is that the fantasy market currently values him at the end of the second round, which is a bargain for a perennial touchdown machine with potential to get back in WR1 territory and owners’ good graces. Most of his production has come after the catch historically, so I wouldn’t be afraid to draft him where he’s going.
The same goes for Sanders, who also knows how to get downfield after the catch but will need to make the most of each target to produce consistently, as we saw his production decrease with QB play over the course of 2015. But I could definitely see him unfold as a security blanket of sorts for Sanchez; he bailed Manning out last season more times than I can remember.
Value and pedigree alone have me targeting Sanders across formats in 2016. His current price tag in the sixth round in 12-team PPR leagues on average is just downright disrespectful in my mind for a guy who could easily finish in WR2 territory.
Lastly, I’d be remiss to not at least mention Virgil Green at the tight end position. I can see Sanchez targeting the TE heavily, so monitor that situation closely as your drafts approach.
Whether it’s Sanchez, Lynch or Siemian under center, there is talent on the roster that should, in all-likelihood, provide production for your fantasy team. Sure, the QB play is suspect and will affect the value of the receivers, but we have a slight idea of what that looks like already in Denver. Consequently, everyone on offense has taken an ADP hit going into 2016 and present value and upside for little investment. C.J. Anderson is someone I like but could easily become a part of a committee attack should he underwhelm again. Devontae Booker is a late round RB to target regardless if you draft Anderson. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are going late enough to gamble on considering their pedigree and solidified roles in Denver’s offense. That being said, I also won't be surprised if Denver's offense is a dumpster fire this season if Sanchez is the starter. Approach with caution.