We are now halfway through the ‘Dodgers and Sleepers’ series as myself and @DFF_MattK have gone through the AFC North & South and NFC North & South. We now move our attention to the AFC East where as always, we will look at sleepers and players to avoid for each team.
New England Patriots
I will start with the Patriots by looking at one of their new additions in Mike Gillislee. After his 116.60 point season last year with Buffalo, it is debatable whether or not he should be classified as a sleeper. But with Gillislee going into a new offense, I am happy to classify him as one. His production last season was buoyed by the Bills using him as their goal line back. He had 8 rushing touchdowns which makes his 116-point season look pretty touchdown dependent.
On the flip side of this, he did manage 576 yards last season on just 101 attempts averaging out at 5.7 yards per carry. The key stat there is 5.7 yards per carry. Gillislee led the league last year in this category, with Bilal Powell coming in 2nd. I am a huge fan of Gillislee (and own him in a couple of leagues), so I strongly believe that he is even better than these stats would suggest. He would have scored more had he not sat behind LeSean McCoy as he only received one start in the 2016 season. If the rumours are true, the Patriots are planning to use Gillislee in the same role as they used Blount.
Last year, Blount accrued 225.90 fantasy points, mainly due to his league leading 18 rushing touchdowns. Gillislee possesses more all-around talent than Blount, so should be able to at least match Blount’s stats of last season. When you look at the Patriots as a team, they are a strong outfit who you would expect to be ahead a lot more than they are behind. Naturally, teams run the ball more when they are ahead so Gillislee should benefit with all the ‘garbage time’ runs he gets as the Patriots try to run out the clock in the 4th quarter.
A player I would be looking to avoid in New England’s offense is Chris Hogan. I don’t get the hype at all, and I am happy to stand by and watch the hype train go past. Everyone seemed to be talking about him last season despite a bang average year. Buffalo drafted him in 2012 (Buffalo to New England, I am spotting a trend here…) and in four seasons only had 137 targets averaging a catch percentage of 62.33%.
This was improved last year, but that would be expected when you have such a dramatic improvement in the quarterback that is throwing to you. If anybody went from Kyle Orton, EJ Manuel and Tyrod Taylor to Tom Brady, you would expect to see an improvement. Last season, Hogan managed 680 yards and 4 touchdowns. In fantasy terms, he accrued 90.90 points; this wasn’t even in the top 50 wide receivers last season. Moving into next season, I would expect a drop off from this with the addition of Brandon Cooks into the Patriots offense. I would be recommending to ignore any hype you hear about Hogan and avoid him where possible. And in case you hadn’t listened to any NFL commentators last year, did you know he used to be a Lacrosse player?
On the defensive side, I like Trey Flowers. I was a big fan of his during his time at Arkansas, and I have no reason to stop believing in him now. Despite the fact that this season will be his 3rd season in the league, he has so far only started in 8 games due to a season-ending injury during week 1 of the 2015 season. He came back with a bang in the 2016 season, managing 79.40 fantasy points having only been a starter in 8 games, including a 13.40-point performance against Buffalo in week 8. (There it is again, Buffalo getting a mention).
This included two sacks and 4 tackles. Across the season, he managed 7 sacks and 23 solo tackles and now with Chris Long no longer being at the Patriots after his move to the Eagles, Flowers will have even more chances to show his superb ability. To add to this, remember that 12-yard sack in the Superbowl that stopped Atlanta from winning? You got it, that was Trey Flowers. I can see his career improving further this year and fully expect him to have a pro-bowl year as one of the better defensive ends. It is also difficult to go against somebody who models their game on Bobby Boucher. Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself: http://www.csnne.com/new-england-patriots/flowers-runs-wild-first-game-injury-ended-his-rookie-season
It’s tough to find a sleeper in this offense (as I would generally look to avoid selecting rookies), however I am going to be looking to Jonathan Williams to step up this season. As mentioned previously, Gillislee last year managed 116.60 fantasy points as backup to McCoy, so there are obviously points to be had past their starting running back.
As a way of protecting the injury prone LeSean McCoy, Buffalo will be looking to use a goal line back which would vulture touchdowns in a Mike Gillislee-esque way. At 6’0” and 223 lb, Williams has the size to be used in this way. Stats don’t exactly support my case for Williams as he only managed 94 yards on 27 attempts last season, averaging out at 3.5 yards per attempt.
Although you do have to bear in mind that those stats were while he was playing as a third string running back and was working his way back from a foot injury that he suffered during his senior year in college. Owning Williams provides you with a goal line running back that may have a brief stint at starter if McCoy was to go down with an injury. Suggesting Buffalo doesn’t bring in anybody else before the season starts, Williams could be a deep (bottom of the Atlantic Ocean deep)
I can’t help but think my player to avoid might spark some debate and end with me getting stoned. But I will be looking to avoid Sammy Watkins. (Hear me out before you shout at me). There weren’t many people that didn’t like Watkins coming out of college back in 2014. In fact, Buffalo liked Watkins so much so they drafted him with the 4th overall pick. He only managed 8 games in the 2016 season missing weeks 3 to 11 due to a foot injury which resulted in him having surgery in January of this year. In those games, he managed 430 yards off 28 receptions and just 2 touchdowns.
Out of the 8 games he played, he only managed to score double figures fantasy points twice against Pittsburgh (11.40) and Miami (21.40), both of which had defences that weren’t exactly good defending against the pass. In the last two seasons, out of a possible 32 games, he has only played in 21. As a fantasy owner, this is something I would be looking to avoid as I want players who are reliable starters on my roster. Additional, Buffalo opted to decline Watkins 5th year option and then proceeded to draft Zay Jones with the 37th pick of this year’s draft. This tells me one thing that Buffalo has the same level of belief in Watkins that I do. Which is to say they do not have any faith in Watkins remaining healthy.
Defensively, Buffalo isn’t bad. They seem to be improving every year and adding pieces every offseason. Shaq Lawson is the sleeper to own from this improving defense. Last year’s 1st round pick Lawson missed the majority of his rookie season due to a nagging shoulder injury.
But now the 22-year-old out of Clemson is back and is likely to be the starter at the left defensive end spot for Buffalo. Having only managed 25 points last season despite playing in 8 games, his shoulder was an issue for him as he was only on the field for 22.1% of Buffalo’s defensive snaps.
Just looking at Lawson’s production in his final year of college will tell you that the talent is there. He managed 12.5 sacks and 58 total tackles, so I would expect this production to map over to the NFL. This season, Lawson will be the outright starter at left defensive end, and I am fully expecting him to have a big season for fantasy owners in what will hopefully be his first full season in the NFL.
New York Jets
The Jets are comfortably one of the worst overall teams, talent-wise, in the NFL right now. But I think they found a bright spark in Jordan Leggett. The 6’5” tight end out of Clemson would have gone much higher in this year’s draft had it not been for the depth at the position. With the Jets taking him in the 5th round, they got an absolute steal. During his time at Clemson he managed 1,598 yards off 112 receptions including 18 touchdowns, with the majority of these stats coming in his final two years.
In 2015 Leggett was also named a finalist for the John Mackey Award (given to the most outstanding tight end in college football), losing out to San Diego’ Hunter Henry. But moving forward, he has to translate his game to Sunday’s.
The chances are, it will be Josh McCown throwing the ball for the Jets next season. He may not be an elite level quarterback, but he has enough success having thrown 29 touchdowns over his last 24 starts(spanning three seasons). McCown was key in Gary Barnidge’s successful season back in 2015. Take a look at Barnidge’s stats with and without McCown (McCown on the left, Barnidge on the right).
(Stats courtesy of NFL.com)
McCown utilised his tight end well, throwing 6 touchdowns his way and three 100+ yard games, something that Barnidge didn’t achieve while McCown was inactive. Leggett has fallen into a good situation in New York and I would expect him to be highly productive with McCown at the helm.
My player to dodge in the Jets offense is running back Matt Forte. Nearly every statistic relevant for running backs has trended downward for Forte since 2013. So let’s take a look at these.
(Stats courtesy of http://www.fantasydata.com)
Most importantly, what we see here is the drop off in his fantasy points over the last 4 years. They have been going in the wrong direction every year and he is steadily becoming less ‘fantasy relevant’. His 153.60 points last season “earned” him the 21st highest scoring running back, only one ahead of his ‘backup’ Bilal Powell. The only statistic that actually looks good for Forte is that last year he scored more touchdowns than the two previous years. However, the only actual competition he had last season was Bilal Powell. This year, all reports suggest Powell is looking much better as a running back and the Jets also drafted Elijah McGuire.
Not to mention that Powell was the 2nd highest scoring RB in the final 4 weeks of last season. With Bilal Powell looking improved, he will challenge Forte for the starting job and definitely eat into his carries. When you also consider that the Jets are a poor team, the chances are they will be chasing a lot of games. Teams don’t often run the ball when they are chasing games, utilising the passing game to get down the field and try to compete as quickly as possible. Though Forte has been a stellar pass catcher most of his career Powell took much of the passing work last season. For these reasons, I will be looking to avoid Forte at all costs this season.
Though Forte has been a stellar pass catcher most of his career Powell took much of the passing work last season.For these reasons, I will be looking to avoid Forte at all costs this season.
The Jets do actually have a bit of talent on their defense. I am going to be looking to Buster Skrine to step up this season and become a big part of the Jets D. The 2011 fifth rounder hasn’t exactly set the NFL alight in his first 6 seasons, but this will be his third season in the Jets’ defense. His first two seasons weren’t highly productive scoring 63 and 57.40 fantasy points respectively. But I will be looking for Skrine to play as he did in his last full season with Cleveland where he racked up 90.50 points including 4 interceptions.
It is tough to make an argument for the cornerback out of Tennessee-Chattanooga based on his stats alone, but I will let you look through his highlights yourself, and hopefully, you will see what I saw in him and trust my judgment! He has quick feet, great top end speed and is strong at tracking the ball in the air. Due to his lack of size, if the Jets use Claiborne on the oppositions ‘big’ receiver and leave Skrine matched up against the smaller sized ones, he will be capable of having a big season this year for the Jets.
The Dolphins have made a shrewd signing in this offseason in Julius Thomas. He has been on a downward spiral since scoring 150.80 in 2013 where he managed 788 yards on 90 targets including 12 touchdowns playing in a strong Denver offense. He followed that up with a 120.90 point season in 2014, again with 12 touchdowns but only 489 yards. Since his move to Jacksonville, his stats were underwhelming, mainly due to his injury struggles, only playing 21 games out of a possible 32. So why do I think he is going to bounce back this year?
The answer is Adam Gase. The same guy who was the offensive coordinator in Denver in 2013-14 is now the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Gase moved quickly to pick up Thomass this offseason as he will be looking to rekindle the success that he had with Thomas back at Mile High Stadium. Gase was offensive coordinator with the Bears in, corralling a total of 135.80 out the Tight end position, splitting the workload between Zach Miller and Martellus Bennett.
Thomas will be sharing the tight end position with Anthony Fasano and MarQueis Gray, both of which Thomas has a great deal more talent and experience than. Expect a big season from Thomas as he bounces back from ‘fantasy obscurity’ to be extremely relevant in your fantasy football leagues.
For my player to avoid, I am going to keep it short and simple. The Miami Dolphins receiving group. Currently, they have DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Jarvis Landry, Leonte Carroo, Isaiah Ford, Damore’ea Stringfellow and several more. Picking the guy who is going to come out of this group and stand out isn’t easy. Looking at last season, Jarvis Landry ended the season as their highest scoring wide receiver with 137.30 points, followed by Kenny Stills with 126.60, every other receiver finished with less than 100.
Now they have added more pieces to this confusing puzzle by drafting Isaiah Ford and picking up Damore’ea Stringfellow as an undrafted free agent, it is anyone’s guess as to who will be the guy to own in your fantasy leagues. With the offseason chatter that Jay Ajayi will be utilised more in the passing game, this gives me, even more, reason to believe that there will be fewer opportunities for the Dolphins receiving group.
If I had to pick one of the group, it would be Jarvis Landry based purely on his cost. Fantasy owners would generally value him much higher than any other Dolphins receiver. But still, I would be looking to avoid any ‘Fins receiver whatever the cost.
Moving swiftly on, my defensive player that I will be looking at in the Dolphins team will be Andre Branch. The defensive end was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft to Jacksonville. Branch has had an injury-stricken first four years (with the exception of the 2013 season where he played in, but didn’t start, all 16 games). His move to Miami last season was a positive move for him. He had a relatively good season including 5.50 sacks, 27 solo tackles, and 2 forced fumbles, finishing the season with 80.65 fantasy points.
The highest scoring DE of last season was Khalil Mack with 165.70 points, 39.70 points ahead of 2nd place. Expecting Branch to achieve these numbers is too much, but with Cameron Wake (who is now 35 years old) needing more rest, Branch is going to get opportunities in the left defensive end position. Wake put up a fairly solid 102.95 fantasy points last season – and I would expect Branch to step up and at the very least get this number suggesting he can stay healthy for all 16 games.
That concludes the AFC East. Check back soon for when @DFF_MattK will be taking you through his players to draft and avoid in the NFC East. Thanks for reading, give me a follow on Twitter @DFF_JamesH and I am always happy to answer any questions.