To accompany the initial projections, as we continue to review, research, analyze the projections, and create cheatsheet rankings, we provide the following commentary by division to give some insight into why we have players projected the way we do at this time.
- As close as Matt Ryan is to the top tier of quarterbacks in fantasy football, he just can’t seem to get over the hump and join the club. A 4,600 yard, 28 TD (which is right about his 3-year average) something to scoff at? Of course not. Just need to make sure you draft him at a point you are getting good value for those numbers.
- The running back position is the one to watch in Falcons camp. Sophomore Devonta Freeman did not impress as a rookie, prompting the team drafting Tevin Coleman this year. We’ve more than doubled Freeman’s 65 carries from a year ago, but have Colman leading the team with 200. New OC Kyle Shanahan has a good track record improving team rushing stats, including the Cleveland Browns last year, but seems dubious to project Coleman plus Freeman matching Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell plus a little Ben Tate.
- A little light in the touchdowns at six, but Julio Jones was 104-1,593 in 15 games last season. He has the talent to challenge for the top WR in fantasy football, although I’m a little torn on that as I also believe Roddy White is capable of bouncing back with a 1,000+ yard season. Maybe both? There isn’t much behind them to compete for catches since losing TE Tony Gonzalez and now WR3 Harry Douglas in consecutive seasons. They could use a solid rookie season from fourth round pick Justin Hardy.
- Cam Newton signed a 5-year, $103 million extension this week. Meanwhile, his rushing yards and yards-per-carry declined each of the past three seasons. Cam is a ridiculous physical specimen at 6’5”, 240 lbs., and in his prime at 26, but no matter who the player is I get concerned when I need to rely so much on rushing (yards and touchdowns) from my quarterback to earn fantasy points. Just sayin’
- Finally Jonathan Stewart is rid of the presence of DeAngelo Williams, so those dynasty owners who drafted him way back in … wait for it … 2008(!) can see him shine as a primary back. While there sure isn’t much tread on the tires – Stewart hasn’t played a 16-game season since 2011 – I’d still be extremely cautious with this guy. The Panthers will find someone else to share the workload, and/or Stewart could never hold up under a 250+ carry season anyway. Projecting 200-850 seems about right. Could bring decent receiving numbers to the table.
- Kelvin Benjamin was the surprise talk of the rookie receivers the early part of last season, before Odell Beckham Jr. bust on the scene, and while Mike Evans quietly went about his business in Tampa Bay. We’re not looking at big reception and yardage numbers here. He’s got to find the end zone, which he did 5 times in the first half of 2014, but only 3 times in the second half. I’d be cautious overpaying because of so much reliance on touchdowns.
- Rookie Devin Funchess is a speculative add. Factoring in Benjamin, Greg Olsen and a QB with under 4,000 yards passing, can’t be much left for Funchess even though we expect him to start.
New Orleans Saints
- An offense chalk full of fantasy stars for years, quickly turned into one of the more difficult situations to predict. Gone are Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills, replaced by essentially no one new at those positions. C.J. Spiller swaps in for Pierre Thomas, likely an upgrade but debatable.
- The pass-to-run mix the last three seasons: 64.5% to 35.5% (2012), 62.5% to 37.5% (2013) and 61.9% to 38.1% (2014). Hey, they were trending to more rushing anyway. We’ve got them continuing the trend to the tune of 57.8% to 42.2%, a pretty big shift. On the flip side, how good will their defense be and can leopards change their spots? We’ve still got Brees as a 600 attempt pass, 4,500 yard and 30 TD guy. Still good even if a 10% decline off his 3-year average.
- Mark Ingram between the tackles and Spiller out in space. If Spiller gets it, then he could be a rich man’s Darren Sproles. Or maybe that role goes more to Brandin Cooks. As mentioned off the top, a lot of uncertainty how this is going to play out. Marques Colston is one constant but was noticeably slowing down last year.
- Josh Hill’s name is a buzz in the fantasy community, replacing Jimmy Graham. A Top 12 TE, sure, but bottom six, and the difference between six and twelve (and beyond) is negligible.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Rookie QB alert! First overall pick Jameis Winston will start for the Bucs right out of the gate. Unlike Marcus Mariota, Winston has some pretty good pieces around him to work with, so we’re a lot more optimistic about this situation, relatively speaking. Winston is still a rookie. A Russell Wilson-esque rookie year would be super (QB11) but we’re not expecting that. Better than Blake Bortles or Teddy Bridgewater last season.
- It looks like Charles Sims will be handed over the reigns of the Bucs rushing attack. Doug Martin is still there, but his breakout rookie season was under an old regime and ancient history now. I’m still a fan, but think Martin needs a change of scenery to succeed, and that isn’t happening this year. Sims only mustered 2.80 yards-per-carry last season on 66 carries after missing the first half of the year. That has to be better, and how useful he is will depend on the split with Martin. We have it 205 Sims, 180 Martin right now. The gap should likely be wider.
- This is where Winston is well suited to succeed as a rookie. He’s got two exceptional receivers, veteran Vincent Jackson and sophomore Mike Evans. Both hit 1,000 yards last year, although VJax had season lows in yards and touchdowns (in a 16 games played season) since 2007. He’s a speed guy with a low catch rate and past his prime, so discount accordingly. Evans is the real deal. Our first update expect a bump up.